The Aurora Borealis are a beautiful sight — but, it turns out, they can be a real pain in the arse too. A new report explains that they can and do mess up drilling operations, especially in areas around the Arctic where they're most common. Auroras happen when solar winds disturb the Earth's magnetosphere. As a result, charged particles — mainly electrons and protons — pour into the upper atmosphere, losing energy as they do so. The loss of energy occurs through the ionisation and excitation of different constituents in the atmosphere, creating the cool colours associated with the northern lights.
But research by Inge Edvardsen from the University of Tromsø suggests that the disturbances in the atmosphere can cause magnetic sensor — which most drilling operations use to determine their position — to play up. In turn, drilling can be imprecise. His research reveals that the problem gets worse the further North one drills.
What's to do? He suggest the answer is pretty straightforward: Install extra measurements systems below ground and at the bottom of the sea, where possible, to help corroborate the land-based measurement systems.
Image by NASA