Most people have to look up to the heavens, but a rare view of the Northern Lights was enjoyed by passengers on a plane flying above the clouds.

The spectacular lights of the Aurora Borealis lit up the sky last night, giving a unique perspective of the celestial phenomenon to people on a flight from Gatwick to just off the coast of the Shetland Isles.

The red, yellow and green lights were clearly visible, shining and dazzling above and beyond the clouds.

The flight was chartered by Aerobility, a charity that gives people with disability the chance to fly, and had 74 passengers on board, including BBC's The Sky At Night presenters Pete Lawrence, Jon Culshaw and Dr Paul Abel.

The British Airways flight took off at 8.20pm and shortly after departure the cabin lights were turned off to help the passengers' eyes adjust to the night sky.

The aircraft returned to Gatwick at around midnight.

On Thursday night, the lights of the Aurora Borealis lit up skies as far south as Gloucestershire, Essex and Norfolk, the result of a strong magnetic storm.

The lights could be enjoyed in Glasgow, Orkney and Aberdeenshire in Scotland, at Preston in Lancashire and in Whitley Bay, North Tyneside.

The Northern Lights are usually visible in only the more northern parts of the UK, but a surge in geomagnetic activity led to them appearing much further south than usual.

The display occurs when explosions on the surface of the sun hurl huge amounts of charged particles into space, according to the British Geological Survey .

Those thrown towards Earth are captured by its magnetic field and guided towards the geomagnetic polar regions. Charged particles collide with gas molecules in the atmosphere, and the subsequent energy is given off as light.