North­ern lights give a daz­zling dis­play thanks to so­lar flare

The Sunday Telegraph - - News - By Luke Heighton

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

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