What was the great auroral display of May 2024 all about? - June Late at the Royal Astronomical Society celebrating 150 years at Burlington House

An image of the Earth from the North pole showing the reach of the ring of the aurora extended to the UK.
NASA/NOAA spacecraft imagery of the 11 May 2024 aurora
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Please note: this is a free and open to the public in-person only event at Burlington House repeating at 6pm, 7pm, and 8pm. Please register via the Eventbrite link below. 


We invite you to come join us in celebration of our 150th anniversary of being at Burlington House. 

The Royal Astronomical Society was founded in 1820 at Freemason's Tavern and where we held our meetings at 57 Lincoln's Inn Fields until 1834. After 40 years at Somerset House we moved into Burlington House in 1874 and are happy to say that we have recently agreed to a 999-year lease to stay on these historical premises. Learn more about the history of the RAS here

Please come and join us for an Open Late on 28 June to hear from our new RAS President Professor Mike Lockwood on the natural solar event that caused the brilliant aurora, with reports of it reaching as far as Southampton, in May 2024. More information and to register below. 

Register for the 28 June Late at the Royal Astronomical to hear from new RAS President Prof. Mike Lockwood on the aurora event. 

Three sessions will be offered at:

  • 6pm - 20 minute talk with 10 minute Q&A followed by a library exhibit. 
  • 7pm - 20 minute talk with 10 minute Q&A followed by a library exhibit. 
  • 8pm - 20 minute talk with 10 minute Q&A followed by a library exhibit. 


Images of solar eclipses showing solar wind from the corona in 2009 and 2013.
Images of the Sun's atmosphere (corona) during eclipses. The left hand event was at sunspot minimum and reveals the ordered magnetic field. The right hand one shows the more disordered  field at sunspot maximum. The inner part is an eclipse photograph, the outer part a simultaneous image from an instrument on the SoHO satellite. Heading towards the bottom of the frame is a Coronal Mass Ejection.
Prof. Mike Lockwood


What was the great auroral display of May 2024 all about?

This month we got the chance to see aurora in the UK, in an event that comes around about once a decade.  We were lucky, it happened after dark but not in the small hours when most people are asleep, or when it was cloudy or during a full moon.  Aurora occurs in rings around the Earth's magnetic poles and in Europe is normally over northern Scandinavia - but sometimes the ring (called the auroral oval) expands to bring it down to over the UK. In exceptional events, like that last month, it even reaches down to southern Europe. Aurora is powered by energy that Earth's magnetic field extracts from the solar wind - a supersonoic outflow of charged particles that all stars emit - and that is highly variable , sometimes being enhanced in huge eruptions of material called Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs), a few of which hit the Earth.  It is all to do with the magnetic field of the Sun, which is relatively simple and ordered at sunspot minimum but gets increasingly tangled as the Sun heads towards sunspot maximum - we can see this in images of the solar atmosphere during eclipses.  CME eruptions are part of the way that the field untangles itself and so help the Sun return to solar minimum again, the whole cycle taking eleven years on average:  the progress of that cycle often being monitored by the number of sunspots on the solar surface.  We study these processes, not only so we can forecast beautiful auroral displays, but mainly so we can protect operational systems, such as satellites, power grids and pipelines from the damage that these events can cause.

A comparison of the aurora during quiet, moderate and high disturbance levels.
A comparison of the aurora during quiet, moderate and high disturbance levels. The disturbed image is from 3 NASA/NOAA spacecraft and shows the full northern hemisphere auroral oval on11 May 2024 during the  major geomagnetic storm of 11 May 2024. For comparison with the other two images, the coastline of northern Europe has been highlighted in green. All three images were taken in visible light and infrared and, as well as the aurora, one can see the lights of major cities.
NASA/NOAA spacecraft imagery of the 11 May 2024 aurora


About our speaker:

Mike Lockwood is our new RAS president and a Fellow of the Royal Society. He has studied the various ways that the Sun influences Earth, work he started with his PhD at Exeter University and the continued working at Auckland University, New Zealand, RAE, Farnborough, Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, NASA, UNIS Svalbard, Southampton University and now the University of Reading.  He has studied the Sun, interplanetary space, near-Earth space and the aurora and has a particular interest in how these phenomena effect life on Earth and humankind's operational systems.  

A picture of Prof. Mike Lockwood in a dark blue polo shirt holding a paper cup.
New RAS President Prof. Mike Lockwood
Prof. Mike Lockwood


150 years at Burlington House logo
New Burlington House
Licence type

This event is in-person only and will take place at Burlington House, Piccadilly, London at the Royal Astronomical Society. 




Venue Address

The Royal Astronomical Society,Burlington House


51.5085763, -0.13960799999995