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April Fools 2017

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Our article about the colourless northern lights yesterday was of course the 2017 SpaceWeatherLive April Fools prank. It was fun to see all the nice responses everywhere and we had great fun making this article. If you missed the prank, here is the article once more, preserved before the page will be removed.

Scientists sound the alarm: Northern Lights will become colourless due to global warming

Atmospheric research scientists at the University of Troon published a paper today where they uncover that the Aurora Borealis (northern lights) and the Aurora Australis (southern lights) are to become colourless in the near future due to atmospheric changes caused by the warming of our planet.


 A typical colourful auroral display.... soon a thing of the past?

It is no secret that our planet is warming up. Climate change has been a hotly debated topic and will certainly continue to be so in the future. Carbon dioxide levels are rising rapidly trapping more and more heat which will have severe impacts on our future way of life. Known consequences of global warming are to name a few: more frequent and severe weather, higher sea levels and dirtier air. Another until today unknown side effect is that the magical northern lights and southern lights will become colourless in the future due to the changes in the atmospheric composition at high altitudes. We spoke with one of the scientists that published this news today, Professor Marvin Ferrango from the the University of Troon.

Professor Marvin Ferrango is one of three scientists who developed a revolutionary new computer model that is used to predict the composition of our planet's atmosphere in the future. He explains to us that they discovered that at altitudes higher than 60 kilometers, carbon dioxide will in the future be by far the most common element in the upper atmosphere pretty much completely replacing oxygen and nitrogen atoms. Carbon dioxide is a green house gas which has a profound influence on the composition of the upper atmosphere where aurora forms.

This is significant because aurora is caused by charged particles in the solar wind colliding with oxygen and nitrogen atoms high up in the atmosphere. The collisions cause the electrons of the atmospheric atoms to become excited. As the electrons return to their original energy levels, these atoms emit visible light of distinct red and green wavelengths. These glowing atoms are what we see as the northern and southern lights.


 Professor Marvin Ferrango of the University of Troon.

Professor Ferrango explains that the computer model shows us that the upper atmosphere at altitudes above 60 kilometers will be completely depleted of oxygen and nitrogen atoms in about 10 to 15 years from now. While oxygen and nitrogen emit green and red light, nitrogen atoms emit only a very faint gray light when they are excited by charged solar wind particles. In other words, as there are no more oxygen and nitrogen atoms for the solar wind particles to bump in to but only carbon dioxide molucules, the skies of the future will be filled with 50 shades of grey instead of vibrant red and greens. 


 Scientists predict that the northern and southern lights will become colourless in the near future.

The Norwegian goverment issued a statement that they are very worried about the future of their country should the Aurora Borealis indeed lose all its colours. The country's oil reserves is by far the most important economic asset for the country but supplies are starting to dwingle. To counteract the possible loss of oil revenue, the Norwegian goverment has been investing heavily into tourism as a way to support their economy for when their oil reserves run out. A study shows however that a significant ammount of the tourists visiting the Scandinavian country might choose other, warmer destinations instead of the cold north when the Aurora Borealis loses the sparkling green and red colours. A Norwegian spokesperson says that up to 80% less visitors could be expected which would be an economic disaster for the country.

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