TECH

Lawnmower Triggers Nationwide Northern Lights Alert

"We believe the interference was caused by university staff mowing the grass on a sit-on mower."

26/08/2016 11:04 | Updated 26 August 2016
JONATHAN NACKSTRAND via Getty Images

Hopes of a spectacular aurora light show visible from across the UK were dashed this week after scientists revealed that a “massive spike” in magnetic field data was triggered by a groundskeeper’s sit-on lawnmower.

AuroraWatch UK issued an alert on Tuesday after a magnetometer at Lancaster University detected unusually high geomagnetic activity.  

An automated email claiming the aurora would be visible nationwide was sent out to fans as soon as the bogus reading was made.

But when the scientists realised it was a false alarm, they jumped on Facebook to explain the situation to their followers. 

It turned out that the data was skewed by university staff mowing a nearby patch of lawn.

Later in the day, a spokesperson wrote online: “We believe the interference was caused by University staff mowing the grass on a sit-on mower.

“We’ll work with the facilities team to try and avoid an incident such as this occurring in the future!”

The project pulls data from sensors in Lancaster, Aberdeen, the Faroe Islands and further afield and is operated by researchers at Lancaster.

The alert system normally relies on readings made by a sensor in Crooktree, Aberdeen. But that sensor had also been playing up, so the scientists deferred to their local magnetometer.

“Unfortunately, it seems our back-up needed a back-up,” the spokesperson wrote. 

 Aurora in Russia

  • Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
    YAMALO, RUSSIA - APRIL 08: Northern Lights seen near the town of Salekhard, Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, Russia on April 08, 2016. (Photo by Sergey Anisimov /Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
  • Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
    YAMALO, RUSSIA - APRIL 08: A view of Northern Lights seen near the town of Salekhard, Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, Russia, on April 08, 2016. (Photo by Sergey Anisimov /Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
  • Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
    YAMALO, RUSSIA - APRIL 08: Northern Lights seen near the town of Salekhard, Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, Russia on April 08, 2016. (Photo by Sergey Anisimov /Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
  • Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
    YAMALO, RUSSIA - APRIL 08: Northern Lights seen near the town of Salekhard, Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, Russia on April 08, 2016. (Photo by Sergey Anisimov /Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
  • Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
    YAMALO, RUSSIA - APRIL 08: Northern Lights seen near the town of Salekhard, Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, Russia on April 08, 2016. (Photo by Sergey Anisimov /Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
  • Owen Humphreys/PA Wire
    The Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis, shine over St Marys Island near Whitley Bay in Northumberland.
  • Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
    YAMALO, RUSSIA - APRIL 08: Northern Lights seen near the town of Salekhard, Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, Russia on April 08, 2016. (Photo by Sergey Anisimov /Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
  • Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
    YAMALO, RUSSIA - APRIL 08: A view of Northern Lights seen near the town of Salekhard, Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, Russia, on April 08, 2016. (Photo by Sergey Anisimov /Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
  • Owen Humphreys/PA Wire
    The Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis, shine over St Marys Island near Whitley Bay in Northumberland.
  • Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
    YAMALO, RUSSIA - APRIL 08: Northern Lights seen near the town of Salekhard, Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, Russia on April 08, 2016. (Photo by Sergey Anisimov /Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
  • Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
    YAMALO, RUSSIA - APRIL 08: Northern Lights seen near the town of Salekhard, Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, Russia on April 08, 2016. (Photo by Sergey Anisimov /Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
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