British scientists to predict Northern Lights on the net

The ancient Norwegians thought them to be spinsters dancing and wearing white gloves that wove patterns in the sky. Others believed they were giant torches being shone by Lapp, or Sami, herdsmen searching for their reindeer. Now, people throughout Britain are to be given the chance to witness the much talked about, but little seen, northern lights.

The ancient Norwegians thought them to be spinsters dancing and wearing white gloves that wove patterns in the sky. Others believed they were giant torches being shone by Lapp, or Sami, herdsmen searching for their reindeer. Now, people throughout Britain are to be given the chance to witness the much talked about, but little seen, northern lights.

Scientists at York University believe they have developed the technology to predict when aurora borealis can next be seen over the UK.

They are creating a website "hotline" which will give advance warning of the lights now at their most visible in Britain for a decade.

The spectacular multi-coloured night sky display is usually seen only in the polar regions but a series of huge explosions on the sun, the ultimate cause of the phenomenon, means there is every chance to see the lights across the UK over the next few months.

When the display has occurred in Britain it has usually been witnessed by few people, either because it is so rare and there is no advance notice, or because of poor weather conditions.

"Now is the best time for 10 years to see the aurora in Britain," said Dr Geoff Short, a researcher at the Magnetospheric Physics Group at York. "In the coming months there will be plenty of opportunity to see the display."

The chances of seeing the northern lights has been enhanced because the sun is at the peak of an 11-year cycle of activity during which sun spots release more radiation than usual. Huge explosions on the sun, known as coronal mass ejections, emit vast lumps of plasma weighing millions of tons which hurtle towards the earth at millions of miles per hour.

These lumps slam into the earth's magnetic field, disrupting it enough to allow electrically charged particles into the earth's upper atmosphere, where they hit molecules of air. It is these molecules that give off the characteristic colours of red, green, blue, cream and yellow, and provide the breathtaking light display.

The unusual strength of the forces coming from the sun mean that the northern lights extend further south along the earth's magnetic field and are more likely to be seen at lower latitudes as well as the usual range, between 60 degrees and 75 degrees north of the equator. The lights have already appeared twice this year in the UK, once in Northamptonshire in April and again in July, though this display was obscured by bad weather.

The York scientists have created equipment that monitors the magnetic field around the earth, giving advance warning - around two hours - of the possibility of a northern lights display in the skies above Britain.

During active times, they will post an "aurora alert" on their website, www.aurorawatch.york.ac.uk and contact people who register with them by e-mail or by text messages on mobile phones.

"It's partly for our own pleasure because we don't want to miss out," admitted Dr Short. "This happens infrequently at this sort of latitude and we will be able to tell if it is going to be a big event or a very big event. The lights can happen all year round but you tend to get darker and clearer skies in winter which is why they are seen more at that time of year."

But the monitoring unit is not solely operating for the pleasure of scientists who are aching to see the northern lights. There is a serious side to the work: the technology allows the team to study the phenomenon of space weather, including solar winds, so that their impact on the Earth can be lessened.

"We are trying to understand how space weather is driven," Dr Short said. "Space storms can carry fairly large currents which can overload power sources on earth. A big space storm blacked out half of Canada in 1989. There's an industrial element to it all because everyone relies on television and mobile phones that are linked to satellites which can be affected by those storms."

News
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Sport
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
football
Sport
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
News
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
Voices
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise
voicesJames Moore: As the Tories rub their hands together, the average voter will be asking why they're not getting a piece of the action
Sport
Dejan Lovren celebrates scoring for Southampton although the goal was later credited to Adam Lallana
sport
News
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
life
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Service Delivery Manager (Software Development, Testing)

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established software house ba...

Day In a Page

Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little