Giant space contrails that are the ‘potential showstoppers’ of Earth’s aurora borealis should increase
There will be a lot of night-time flirting going on. For those who enjoy watching the northern lights – which include the spectacular green orbs known as the aurora borealis – there is news that sounds like something from Love Actually.
The huge tail of Earth’s aurora should rise this weekend for the first time since Christmas, with our skies lit up by “a spectacular display of the northern lights”, said the astronomer Alastair McBeath.
The dip in temperatures over the past week has warmed up the atmosphere causing the “flinging flow of ionised gas”, that is “virtually guaranteed to produce an aurora”.
He said this would be most obvious above the north pole, with clouds of clouds of fast-moving red particles that are the cause of the beautiful green glow.
“The Northern Lights in early February are often not particularly spectacular, but this year there will be a spectacular display of the northern lights especially at the highest altitude,” said McBeath, director of the Virtual Telescope Project.
“The huge tail of Earth’s aurora borealis should rise this weekend for the first time since Christmas, with our skies lit up by ‘a spectacular display of the northern lights’.”
Spectacular though it is, it is not the sort of thing that causes excitement for those who like to go to bed early. But from Friday until Sunday there are high chances that the stars will be shining brightly.
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“Normally it is January when the northern lights appear but this year they’ll appear early and they’ll be bright,” McBeath said. “If you look up this weekend, you’ll see that they will be unfurling.”
Astronomers suggest the light show will last about 15 minutes and “an unlikely group of the very brightest” will be in the middle of the night.
Those who want to experience the magnificent sight can find out about where to watch the northern lights in the UK on a map on the observatory’s website.
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As for the cause of the phenomenon, a space spokesman for the EU Space Agency pointed out there had been numerous occasions of extremely energetic outbursts in Earth’s atmosphere, in which gas could be “bursted out”. “The source of these extremely energetic particles might not be the sun,” said spokesman Mario Tomaselli.
He was referring to the kind of ‘mazicule’ stream that has been dubbed the ‘Armageddon fire-ball.’
“What we call the comet Lemmon-Wainwright and now Lemmon-White have probably released the most energetic particles,” he said.
“This is the key: we have the source of the ions.
“We are working on understanding when these events could happen in the next decade,” he said.