The Northern Lights are on a lot of people's "must see" list but, in my experience, most people aren't willing to walk into their back garden to actually look.
Over the last few days there have been several events on the sun which make it very likely that we will have displays of Northern Lights over the coming few days. Charged particles are heading our way. Now it is impossible to say when they will arrive and, indeed, it is impossible to be sure that they will hit the earth so this is all a balance of probabilities thing. However the first big blast might arrive about 2200 tonight with others to follow.
Here in the UK the lights are generally easily seen, and strong displays are often seen right into the south of the country, if you have dark skies. You will not normally see them in light polluted urban areas and you will certainly not see them by peeking out the window during the ad break in Eastenders. Last year they were photographed from the Isle of Lewis (clear skies and no hills to cause clouds to hang about) on about 70 nights which, if you discount the summer months when it is daylight all the time, means they were seen 2 - 3 times per week during the dark winter nights. So, the best place to see them is right here at home.
This weekend is important because we are coming to the end of the current solar cycle. The sun goes through a cycle and at the minute we are just at the end of a period of maximum sunspot activity, though it was a pretty weak period. Some scientists are suggesting that we might be entering a long period of solar minimum, such as gave us the Little Ice Age and frost fairs on the river Thames, and so it may be a long time (200 - 300 years) before we are seeing any northern lights again. So, if you want to see the northern lights then this weekend, or the next few months and weeks, might be the last chance in your lifetime.
If you have clear skies and can get to somewhere with reduced light pollution then it is well worth keeping your eyes open over this coming weekend. It is also worth taking the kids out for a look as if we do enter a big minimum then the lights might be a very rare thing indeed for their lifetime. Even with light pollution it is possible, though not ideal, to see the lights and the following photos were taken in and urban area of the UK, one of them using a very simple point and shoot camera:
You can watch the output of the magnetometer to give you some idea of the likely level of activity, big deviations from the blue line usually means there is something worth looking for as do spikes with sharply rising or falling edges.