Sun's magnetic field could increase lightning strikes across the UK

Monday 24th Nov 2014 by theWeather Club

According to new research, the number of lightning strikes across the UK has been significantly affected by solar activity. The study – published in in the journal Environmental Research Letters - found that the Sun's magnetic field affects our own, thus increasing our exposure to cosmic rays which increase the number of thunderclouds and trigger lightning bolts.

Current theories suggest that high energy particles, ‘galactic cosmic rays’, play an important role in the generation of lightning, whilst this latest work suggests that the orientation of the Sun's magnetic field is playing a significant role in the number of strikes

"What we found was there is significantly more lightning in the UK when the field is pointing towards the Sun than when its pointing away which was surprising," said Dr Matt Owens from the University of Reading, the lead author on the study.

"What we think is happening is that the Sun's magnetic field is pulling or pushing on the Earth's field and that's letting energetic charged particles down into the atmosphere at different locations and the idea is that these actually trigger lightning.”

“For lightning, you need a thin conducting channel like a wire, and galactic cosmic rays can provide this thin column of ionisation in the atmosphere."

The study found 50% more strikes when the Earth’s magnetic field is affected by the sun, with far higher rates in the summer. As the nature of the Sun's magnetic fields are well known, there may be scope for incorporating this information into weather forecasts in the future.

Read the BBC news feature here >> http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-30103561

The research article can be found here >> http://iopscience.iop.org/1748-9326/9/11/115009/article

Related news story >> http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-30023536