New Shetland magnetometer

AuroraWatch UK magnetometer located at Sumburgh Head lighthouse. CC BY 4.0 Nathan Case.

In collaboration with the Shetland Amenity Trust, and thanks to funding from Gradconsult, the AuroraWatch UK team are delighted to announce that we have installed a new magnetometer in Sumburgh, Shetland. This new magnetometer is located in the grounds of the Sumburgh Head lighthouse, making it the most northerly magnetometer in our network. Arguably, it has the best view of any of our magnetometers too!

Shetland Alerts

Being much closer to the auroral oval than the rest of the UK, the aurora has often been visible from Shetland when our Aberdeen magnetometer barely registered any magnetic disturbance. Adding this Shetland magnetometer will help us provide more accurate and timely alerts for those in Shetland, Orkney, and the rest of far-north Scotland.

We have now started issuing Shetland specific aurora alerts using the data from this magnetometer. These alerts are posted from a new, separate AuroraWatch Shetland Twitter account. Alerts are currently in a “test phase” while we work out what the “base line” (or background level) is for this new magnetometer – which requires about a month’s worth of data. You can also access the Shetland data from our website. Just note, during this test phase, that the activity values (and thus the alerts) may be a little “off” until that base line has been properly calculated.

The Shetland magnetometer will also allow for scientific analyses of the Earth’s magnetic field. In particular, we’ll be able to see how the magnetic field varies in response to the aurora at different latitudes. As shown in the image below, the disturbances measured at Shetland (top blue line) can be much larger than the corresponding disturbances measured elsewhere in our network.

AuroraWatch UK stackplot for 12-13 September 2017. Sumburgh magnetometer top (AWN SUM).

A good time to visit!

In addition to experiencing Shetland in some beautiful weather, I was also lucky enough to witness some aurora during my visit. I captured this photo from the pier in Lerwick Harbour. Unfortunately, the aurora was pretty weak and the light pollution from the town washed it out. In case you’re interested, this type of aurora is known as patchy pulsating aurora and occurs equatorward (southward) of the main auroral oval.

A weak patchy aurora (circled in red) captured from Lerwick Harbour at 11:52pm on on 22 August 2017. The lights from Lerwick mean this weak display is washed out and created lens flare (I have bought a lens hood now!). CC BY 4.0. Nathan Case.

More photos from my trip, if you’re interested, can be found on my Flickr page.

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