Northern lights give a dazzling display thanks to solar flare
A SOLAR flare with the energy of a billion hydrogen bombs has caused spectacular shows of the northern lights, scientists have said.
The largest solar flare for more than 12 years – and the eighth largest since records began in 1996 – emerged from the sun on Wednesday and has been captured in high detail by a team of researchers.
The mass burst of radiation, one of three so-called “X-category flares” observed over a 48-hour period, continues to produce spectacular aurora displays across northern latitudes, including in Britain. The northern lights have been visible over a wide area, including Scotland and the north, although cloud cover and poor weather conditions across many parts of the country have left many enthusiasts disappointed.
A team from a consortium of UK universities, including the University of Sheffield and Queen’s University Belfast, observed mass coronal ejections in high detail using the Swedish Solar Telescope on the island of La Palma in the Canary Islands.
The data collected will help predict when and where X-class flares might occur in the future and this information can be channelled into the multibillion pound space weather industry to better protect satellites from the dangers of the sun, the scientists said.
The team said flare observation using ground-based telescopes is difficult because X-class flares can form and reach their peak intensities in as little as five minutes.
Dr Chris Nelson, from the University of Sheffield’s school of maths and statistics, said: “It’s very unusual to observe the opening minutes of a flare’s life. We can only observe about one 250th of the solar surface at any one time using the Swedish Solar Telescope, so to be in the right place at the right time requires a lot of luck.
“To observe the rise phases of three X-classes over two days is just unheard of.”
Spectacular Aurora Borealis illuminate the sky near Leknes on the Lofoten Islands located in the Arctic circle