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Turns Out Northern Lights Won't Be Vanishing Anytime Soon

First Posted: Feb 08, 2017 03:38 AM EST
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Recent studies have predicted that as the Earth heads to the grand solar minimum, extremely low levels of solar activity would cause the Northern Lights to disappear in the U.K. But is this really 100 percent true?

Phys.org reported that historical records of the aurora sightings during the two previous grand solar minimums, including the 70-year Maunder minimum that began in 1645, suggest that the Northern Lights did not exactly disappear in the U.K. Weak solar activity may have decreased the natural light spectacle over the region, but the aurora borealis was still spotted from below 56 degrees magnetic latitude (somewhere near Lancaster, England).

Reports about the Northern Lights' disappearance in the U.K. recently shocked people after scientists have predicted that the coming solar minimum may confine the aurora within the polar regions. The solar minimum is the Sun's weakest point within an 11-year solar cycle, which could be indicated by extremely low numbers of sunspots compared to 40,000 to 50,000 sightings in a "normal" activity.

"The magnetic activity of the sun ebbs and flows in predictable cycles, but there is also evidence that it is due to plummet, possibly by the largest amount for 300 years," Reading University's Dr. Mathew Owens, who studied the aurora, told BBC. "If so, the Northern Lights phenomenon would become a natural show exclusive to the polar regions, due to a lack of solar wind forces that often make it visible at lower latitudes."

The aurora is caused by the interaction of a stream of electrically charged particles from the Sun, known as the solar wind, with the Earth's magnetic field on the upper atmosphere. Since the solar activity is approaching its lowest point, the appearance of the aurora would then be at its weakest as well.

In conclusion, seeing the aurora may be extremely rare in the coming years. However, it does not mean it would completely vanish from the night skies over some lucky places.

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