Why is our night sky turn­ing pur­ple?

Ormskirk Advertiser - - Front Page - BY KATE MCMULLIN kate.mcmullin@trin­i­tymir­ror.com @Visiter

DOZENS of read­ers have been con­tact­ing us ask­ing why they can see a pur­ple glow in the night sky ev­ery evening.

Lots of you have sent us photos of the strange phe­nom­e­non, from places such as South­port, Scaris­brick and Orm­skirk.

Mal­colm Her­bert said: “Driv­ing home to St He­lens at 10.30pm, we ob­served a spec­tac­u­lar pur­ple / red sky in the gen­eral di­rec­tion of Birk­dale and Ains­dale. It lasted for about 10 min­utes be­fore the rain clouds ob­scured it from our view.

“We un­der­stand from pre­vi­ous sight­ings that the cause is un­usu­ally high pres­sure.”

Sa­man­tha Rose said: “I have been see­ing the same light in the same place on and off for a cou­ple of months.

“I thought it was far too lu­mi­nous to be au­rora bo­re­alis. I tweeted the coun­cil about it, but they didn’t re­spond.”

But now the rea­son be­hind the pur­ple/pink light can be re­vealed.

It all comes down to toma­toes.

Tomato grower Flavourfresh Sal­ads, in Scaris­brick, has for the past year been us­ing LED lights to help aid the growth of its award-win­ning toma­toes.

The lights, which are a mix­ture of blue and red, are used in the green­houses and when com­bined ap­pear bright pur­ple.

When switched on, they can be seen for miles with peo­ple claim­ing to have seen the pur­ple or pink colour in the sky from South­port, Formby, Orm­skirk and Liverpool.

How­ever, although the lights are turned on ev­ery night there will only be cer­tain times peo­ple will ac­tu­ally be able to see the sky change colour from a distance.

Andy Lig­gat, nurs­ery man­ager at Flavourfresh, said: “The rea­son you get the beau­ti­ful coloured sky is be­cause of the weather.

“If you get a nice clear night you won’t see it but if it is misty, rain­ing or foggy the LED lights will shine on the cloud and that is what gives it that glow.

“If you woke up at 5am and it was a nice clear morn­ing you may see a tint of it but if you woke up to fog and looked, you would be like ‘wow’.”

The lights were in­stalled by Tar­leton-based Eco Elec­tri­cal & Build­ing Ser­vices.

In­side the six-and-a-half acre site there are 100,000 plants pro­duc­ing 420 tonnes of toma­toes a year.

The huge green­houses have black­out screens on their win­dows, which are com­put­erised to close at night which is when the LED lights come on.

There are gaps of about a foot left in the black­out screens mean­ing that the lights can shine through and up into the sky.

But there is a rea­son why peo­ple may see a glow­ing sky­line more of­ten in the com­ing months.

Andy ex­plained: “The LED lights elon­gate the day­light in the green­houses for the toma­toes. So as the nights get darker ear­lier we turn the lights on ear­lier. We are ba­si­cally giv­ing the toma­toes 18 hours of day­light and kid­ding them, in ef­fect, to think­ing it is day­light.”

The com­pany, which pro­duces the spe­cial­ity crop for Asda and M&S, has been in op­er­a­tion since the mid 1970s and was the fifth in the coun­try to trial LED lights.

In the green­houses, which av­er­age at about 24°C (75°F), there are about 3,000 LED lights which have re­placed the pre­vi­ous high-pres­sure sodium lights.

Andy said that the change to the LED light­ing was in keep­ing with the de­mands from the public and su­per­mar­kets.

He said: “If you don’t have light, you can’t grow toma­toes.

“In win­ter you don’t have the nec­es­sary sun­light so the LED lights make it pos­si­ble to grow the toma­toes all year round.”

Flavourfresh, which has 11 full-time staff and 25 sea­sonal staff, pro­duces its elec­tric­ity on site and has a reser­voir at the back of the site for wa­ter.

There are also a num­ber of hives in the green­houses for the bees that pol­li­nate the toma­toes and bio­con­trollers are used to rid the plants of harm­ful in­sects – rather than the use of chem­i­cals on the plants.

Andy said there have been no neg­a­tive com­ments about the colour­ful night sky and he has in­vited neigh­bours close to the fac­tory to look around.

He said: “I am used to it now but I agree that it is quite a stun­ning sight to see in the sky.

“Peo­ple are quite sur­prised when they come in and see what it is like here.

“We see so many com­ments about what the pink in the sky is – some think­ing it is chem­i­cals, but it isn’t.

“Only 20% of toma­toes in stores are Bri­tish, the rest are im­ported so what we are ac­tu­ally do­ing here, with the lights and how we op­er­ate is keep­ing peo­ple in jobs – and it means less has to be im­ported.”


Here’s the an­swer! Clock­wise from left: The Flavourfresh Sal­ads green­house in Scaris­brick; Hor­i­zon­tal LED strip lights among the toma­toes; A staff mem­ber with the tomato plants; The plants at night with the LEDs on; The light re­flected across the night sky by low cloud

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