If we are in fact heading into a new grand solar minimum, it stands to reason that we might see less of nature’s beautiful spectacle. But does that mean we’ll stop seeing it from the UK altogether as some have suggested?
Lessons from the past
Looking back at historical records of aurora sightings might provide the answer. Fortunately, a study has done just that. The authors analysed auroral observations during two grand solar minimums– including the Maunder minimum. They found that the number of aurora sightings from below 56° magnetic latitude (which is similar to geographic latitude but measured from the magnetic pole rather than the geographic pole) did indeed decrease. But they did not stop altogether.
That value of 56° magnetic latitude is actually quite important as it happens to coincide with the magnetic latitude of the UK (more specifically somewhere close to Lancaster, England).
So what’s my prediction for the aurora over the next century? If the models are correct and we do head into a grand solar minimum, then solar activity is going to decrease – and remain at very low levels for decades to come. With this decrease in solar activity, aurora sightings from outside the polar regions are going to become rarer. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll stop altogether. It also isn’t certain that we are heading for a grand solar minimum or – even if we are – when it might occur.
So while that elusive light show might get even more elusive, don’t fret just yet: the northern lights aren’t going out anytime soon.