Many of the best things you can do in Castleton in autumn are daytime activities as you enjoy the seasonal colours and walk miles without having to endure too much heat. But there is one that definitely belongs to the night.

It is commonly assumed that the aurora borealis, or the Northern Lights, can only be seen in the most northerly latitudes, places like Scandinavia or the far north of Scotland. However, while it is true these are the most likely locations, the phenomenon can often be seen a lot further south, including the Peak District.

This happens when the amount of solar particles hitting the Earth’s magnetic field is high, such as when there is a big coronal mass ejection. The Sun has an 11-year cycle and when it is nearing its peak (which it is now), these are more common. Already this year aurora has been seen as far south as Cornwall.

When staying in Castleton, Mam Tor is a great place to go to look out for the lights. It is conveniently close and with a car park nearby and a short walk to the top, it is easy to access even at night.

Early autumn, around the equinox (September 23rd this year) tends to be a particularly notable time for aurora. Scientists are still debating why this is, but it is a fact that the time when the latitudes are even or nearly even is associated with a lot of activity. This also applies to spring, so be sure to look out for it in March too.

Of course, you will need a bit of luck with both the ‘space weather’ and the local meteorological conditions. You may also find that to the naked eye, the towers and spikes of light you see are more white and bluish than the greens and purples produced by long exposure camera.

Even so, it is one of nature’s most wonderful nocturnal sights, so it makes sense to get one of the many apps out there telling you if there’s a chance of seeing it that night, and enjoying an unforgettable Peak District experience.

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