UK tourists who've flown to see the Northern Lights warned over 'dark side'

UK tourists who've flown to Iceland to see the Northern Lights have been warned. The Northern Lights have a dark side, Nasa scientists have moved to warn this week, as they reveal damage at ground level every time displays occur.

Writing in Frontiers in Astronomy and Space Sciences, Nasa scientists have warned that Northern Lights are quietly reducing the lifetime of pipelines that supply homes with heating and electricity globally.

The risk of damage to core infrastructure is heightened during severe geomagnetic storms, Nasa warned. Aurora can damage any form of infrastructure that conducts electricity on Earth, according to the new research paper from the space agency.

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“Auroras and geomagnetically induced currents are caused by similar space weather drivers,” Dr Denny Oliveira of Nasa’s Goddard Space Flight Centre, lead author of the article, explained. “The aurora is a visual warning that indicates that electric currents in space can generate these geomagnetically induced currents on the ground.”

“Arguably, the most intense deleterious effects on power infrastructure occurred in March 1989 following a severe geomagnetic storm — the Hydro-Quebec system in Canada was shut down for nearly nine hours, leaving millions of people with no electricity,” Oliveira added.

“But weaker, more frequent events such as interplanetary shocks can pose threats to ground conductors over time. Our work shows that considerable geoelectric currents occur quite frequently after shocks, and they deserve attention.”

“One thing power infrastructure operators could do to safeguard their equipment is to manage a few specific electric circuits when a shock alert is issued,” Oliveira continued. “This would prevent geomagnetically induced currents reducing the lifetime of the equipment.”

“Current data was collected only at a particular location, namely the Mäntsälä natural gas pipeline system [in Finland],” Oliveira warned. “Although Mäntsälä is at a critical location, it does not provide a worldwide picture. In addition, the Mäntsälä data is missing several days in the period investigated, which forced us to discard many events in our shock database.

"It would be nice to have worldwide power companies make their data accessible to scientists for studies.”