Are the Northern Lights going to disappear?

The current period of 'solar minimum' will have an impact, say experts


The Northern Lights have been the subject of many myths over the years but could the latest be true?

According to many recent reports, 'nature's most spectacular light show' may soon vanish from our skies.

SEE ALSO: Is this the best ever picture of the Northern Lights?

SEE ALSO: Northern Lights dazzle Finland stargazers

Why? It's all to do with the period of solar minimum, the declining stage of Solar Cycle 24. Some recent reports have claimed that this will make the Northern Lights invisible.

Is it true? Well, yes and no....

Here's the science bit
The Aurora is caused by gaseous, particle-ejections from the sun, hitting the earth's magnetic shield and being attracted to the magnetic poles (north and south) where they collide with atoms which produces the lights we see in the sky. Spots on the surface of the sun are known to produce these eruptions, so the cycle of solar maximum (when there are more sunspots) and solar minimum (when there are fewer) generally correspond to more or fewer sightings.

But, importantly, gas ejections continue to be emitted from the sun through 'coronal holes,' which are ironically far more stable during the solar minimum and release a more constant stream of particles that hit the earth no matter where in its span the solar cycle is, so the Northern Lights continue.

To help dispel the myth of a disappearing Aurora, a variety of experts gave Northern Lights holiday specialist company The Aurora Zone their views, which unanimously stated that the solar winds would continue and consequently so would the Northern Lights (although they may well be more difficult to find without some expert guidance).

Leila Mays, a space physicist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, said: "Geomagnetic storms caused by high-speed solar wind streams aren't uncommon. Near solar minimum, when solar activity like coronal mass ejections are less frequent, these fast streams are actually the most common cause of geomagnetic storms that create auroras."

The Aurora Zone's managing director, Ali McLean, who became hooked on the Lights in 2008, said that at the bottom of the last solar minimum, he witnessed "something truly, truly spectacular" and "the best Aurora I have ever seen...and I've been very fortunate to have seen quite a few."

McLean adds that the secret to seeing the Northern Lights this winter is to hunt for them in remote spots which are far removed from significant light pollution.

"The other imperative is local knowledge," he says. "Nobody knows the Aurora better than the folk who live with them night after night."

This autumn has already seen frequent and astonishing displays so far, including some spectacular scenes in Finnish Lapland.

Three more myths about the Northern Lights:

1. A baby conceived beneath the Northern Lights will be lucky, clever and beautiful: there is no proof of this Japanese myth but an upsurge in Japanese tourists within the Auroral Oval at the peak of solar activity recently might show that they may know something we don't.

2. Giving birth under the Lights will ease the pain: an Icelandic story that is untrue - but there is certainly plenty of calming magic in the Aurora, so perhaps easing the pain of childbirth is another of her many talents.

3. Never whistle at the Lights: a Scandinavian myth that you would be snatched by the spirits if you whistled at the Aurora that was proved to be incorrect by the fact that North American Indians regularly did this with no reported losses.

Incredible ways to see the Northern Lights

Incredible ways to see the Northern Lights