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AuroraWatch UK

Published: 12 January 2018
The Aurora Borealis
The Aurora (admittedly not taken in the UK!) Credit: Dr Dan Whiter

Bella Boulderstone, a PhD student in the Astronomy Department working on super-massive black holes, tells us of a new system that alerts people in the UK when the aurora is active nearby...

I don’t think that it’s an understatement to say that most people would like to see the Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights at some point in their lives. However, not everyone is able to make the trip and there are no guarantees that when you get to the Arctic Circle, the weather will be clear.

Enter AuroraWatch UK, which measures disturbances in the Earth’s magnetic field which are caused by the northern lights. Pioneered by Dr Nathan Case and colleagues at Lancaster University (of which I am a graduate), it will send you an email, notification or tweet alerting you to the possibility of an auroral display in the UK. A network of magnetometers analyze data in real-time to send out alerts color-coded to likely displays from red (likely aurora) to green (no significant activity).

The magnetic activity is compared against historical data to show when the activity is heightened or unusual. It was found that there are about 23 hours of red level activity per year: when aurora is likely to be seen throughout the UK. While this might not feel too encouraging, there are much more commonly levels of amber and yellow activity (which signals likely aurora in Northern England and Scotland).

The AuroraWatch UK team also want more people to get involved by reporting their aurora sightings to aurorasaurus so that they can check whether their alerts were accurate!

You can read their paper here, or follow them on twitter here.

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