Powerful Aurora borealis causes no downsides in Finland
Datacomms networks and electrical grids hold up against solar storms
The public were advised earlier this week that they might be able to get a sight of the Aurora borealis or northern lights even down here in the south of the country (although light pollution in the large urban areas makes viewing the night sky difficult at the best of times).
The geomagnetic storms - now approaching an 11-year high - do nevertheless also carry with them the threat of more than just some spectacular psychedelic patterns in the sky.
On Thursday afternoon, the most recent solar coronal mass ejection reached the Earth’s atmosphere, but it was difficult to predict the occurrence of the northern lights. It was largely a question of how the magnetic field around the Earth would change after dark.
”If the magnetic field turns, there will be a beautiful display of lights - and potential disruptions”, predicted researcher Noora Partamies from the Finnish Meteorological Institute.
In principle, powerful solar storms such as these could disrupt data communication networks and hinder for example the use of GPS tracking devices.
”We have not noticed such disturbances in our own services”, reports Tommy Olenius, the technical director of the Finnish mobile operator DNA.
”The number of outages is larger than normal during thunderstorms and snowstorms, but according to our current statistics, solar storms do not seem to increase the number of blackouts”, Olenius added.
Disruptions in the distribution of electricity during the Aurora borealis have been detected in North America, but the transformers used in Finland hold up against solar storms very well, insists Jarmo Elovaara, the leading expert for technology and development at Fingrid, Finland's electricity transmission operator.
Elovaara says that he does not remember a single case in Finland in which a solar storm would have triggered power outages.
”Of course something could happen if a solar storm is unpredictably strong”, Elovaara adds.
In polar regions, geomagnetic storms could disrupt aircraft communications.
In Finland, such risks apparently do not exist, however.
”Solar storms have no effect on air traffic - not even in the northern parts of the country”, says Raine Luojus, Director of Air Navigation Operations at Finavia, the company that administers most of Finland’s airports.
In other words, the northern lights can be admired safely, if they occur in the sky in Southern Finland and if there is a place where the city lights do not disturb the display. At present, the full moon is also hampering the visibility of the Aurora borealis.
”The best place [to watch the Aurora] would be on the top of a hill or on the rooftop of a building, a location with the best view of the northern horizon”, advises Sakari Lehtinen, the head of the Ursa Observatory in Helsinki’s Kaivopuisto.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Aurora borealis light up skies in Lapland (20.2.2012)
Aurora borealis video has more than million viewers (13.12.2011)
Finnish tourism industry northern lights video sparks alarm in Norway (18.10.2011)
Geomagnetic storm (Wikipedia)
Finnish Meteorological Institute: Northern Lights