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  what are the northern lights
  what causes an aurora?
  so how does it work?
  do the aurorae affect us?
  what's twinkling got to do with it?
  tracking space storms
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do the aurorae affect us?

 

Absolutely - otherwise I’d be being paid for looking at pretty lights in the sky and not much else! It’s important that we know the effects of the aurorae and what it means when they are about...there are three ways that they can cause problems.

 

Radio communications

aurorae disturb the atmosphere and this affects radio waves that are communicating information around the world.

     
 

Electricity

The solar wind adds its own magnetic energy to that of the Earth and when they combine they can blow out electric wires and cables!

     
 

Falling spacecraft

The Earth's atmosphere actually expands slightly when aurorae are around. This means that any low-flying satellites can hit the upper atmosphere. This can slow them down enough to make them eventually fall back down to Earth.

     

When we see aurorae, it's like seeing warning lights flashing - there's likely to be a big geomagnetic storms around. These geomagnetic storms are caused by solar storms. Most of the time, the solar wind hitting the Earth is slow - but patches of fast wind and lots of energetic solar particles can sometimes reach us. The space weather experts call these solar storms.

 

Can we get any warnings about solar storms and aurorae? Yes we can, because we can see explosions on the Sun with SOHO. Sometimes these are so huge, that we even get an aurora as far south as the UK. Find out more on the UK Aurora Watch site at York: www.aurorawatch.york.ac.uk

     
  Aurora
   

Photo of an aurora over: Torphins, Scotland, 12th April, 2001, by Jim Henderson.mouse over arrow
Photo of an aurora over: Folkstone, Kent, 11th April, 2001, by Ashley Fuggle. mouse over arrow

     
   

 

   
 
 

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