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Northern Lights, Wikimedia

London, Feb 2, 2017: Britain may face the loss of the magic and beauty of the Northern Lights by the middle of the century due to major shifts in solar activity, scientists have discovered.

Space scientists at University of Reading in the UK have concluded that plummeting solar activity will shrink the overall size of the Sun’s atmosphere by a third and weaken its protective influence and nurture on the Earth in a recent study.


There is a possibility that this could make the Earth more vulnerable to technology-destroying solar blasts and cancer-causing cosmic radiation. It can also make the aurora less common away from the north and south polar regions for 50 years or more.

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According to Matthew Owen, the leader of the Research program from Reading’s Meteorology department, “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.”

“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,” Owens added.

Owens also mentioned, “As the Sun becomes less active, sunspots and coronal ejections will become less frequent. However, if a mass ejection did hit the Earth, it could be even more damaging to the electronic devices on which society is now so dependent.”

The study has shown how sunspot records can be utilised to reconstruct what happened the last time the Earth went through such a dramatic dip in solar activity nearly three centuries ago.

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With the help of updated models and contemporary reports, the researchers were able to predict what could possibly happen during another similar event which is likely to occur in the next few decades.

According to the scientists associated with the program, the coming grand minimum could be similar to the Maunder Minimum of the 17th century, when sun spot activity almost stopped; another symptom of a less active Sun.

Solar wind is made up of electrically charged particles from the Sun, and travels at around a million miles per hour.

A reduction in solar wind would see the heliosphere, the bubble-like configuration around the solar system maintained by particles emitted by the Sun, shrink significantly. This protective bubble helps in shielding and protecting the Earth from harmful radiation from outer space, but it has weakened since the 1950s.

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The prediction of the scientists mentions a rapid reduction in the size of the bubble by around the middle of the 21st century. The own magnetic field of the earth deflects some of this radiation, but areas close to the north and the pole regions are more vulnerable where the Earth’s magnetic field is weakest.

“If the decline in sunspots continues at this rate, and data from the past suggests that it will, we could see these changes occurring as early as the next few decades,” Professor Mike Lockwood from University of Reading informed.

This study was published in the journal Scientific Reports.

-PTI

– prepared by Durba Mandal of NewsGram. Twitter: @dubumerang


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