The sun may be partly responsible for lightning strikes on Earth, and scientists think fluctuations in the sun's magnetic field could be used to predict lightning storms weeks in advance.
The sun's magnetic field can bend Earth's own magnetic field
, and this twisting and turning may be allowing an influx of high-energy particles into the planet's atmosphere. These particles can cause a buildup of electric charge that can trigger lightning strikes.
From 2001 to 2006, during a period when the sun's magnetic field was severely skewing the Earth's magnetic field, the United Kingdom saw 50 percent more lightning strikes than normal, according to the new study.
This severe skewing happens regularly as the sun's magnetic field shifts. Scientists say this suggests the sun's magnetic field could be used to predict the occurrence of lightning.
"We now plan to combine regular weather forecasts, which predict when and where thunderclouds will form, with solar magnetic field predictions," Matt Owens, a professor of space environment physics at the University of Reading in the United Kingdom, said in a statement
. "This means a reliable lightning forecast could now be a genuine possibility."
Earth would be a barren wasteland without a magnetic field. The magnetic field shields the planet from blasts of particles from space, such as high-energy cosmic rays and dangerous solar winds