David Moore, Chairperson of Astronomy Ireland, joined Claire Byrne on RTÉ Radio 1 to discuss the spike of Northern Lights activity in Ireland.

The aurora borealis and aurora australis (also known as the northern lights and southern lights) occur at the northern and southern poles, and are caused by "explosions on the sun".

"We can see those happening in real time," David explains, "in just a few minutes for the light to get from the sun to the earth, but it actually takes the cloud of radiation that gets puffed off the sun about two days to get to us."

"With modern space crafts, we can see them coming and therefore give a two day warning, some time three days."

Claire mentions that a photographer in Donegal who chases these displays of dancing lights recently described the phenomenon as being like "holding a curtain and giving it a shake and everything glitters and moves in that movement."

"They are one of the wonders of nature," David agrees. "Something you've got to see once in your lifetime. The problem with Ireland is we're quite far from the Arctic Circle and that's where most of the auroras are seen - at least overhead."

Occasionally though, he says, an exceptionally big explosion on the sun will allow the lights to be seen from Ireland: "It's been seen in the past overhead in Cork."

At the moment we here in Ireland may have the opportunity to see the spectacular light show over the coming weeks - although we're not entirely sure why.

"We don't really know," admits David. "What we do know is that the sun goes through an eleven year cycle of the number of spots on its surface. In the last couple of years its been spotless for days and weeks on ends. And then, all of a sudden this year, it erupted with loads of spots - some of them bigger than the earth."

The activity has "confounded" the experts who predicted these eruptions to happen later in the cycle and with smaller results. Whatever the reason, though, David suggests making the most of it and keeping an eye on the sky.

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