A tiny observatory at the Brandon research station is busy tracking the Earth’s magnetic field — and helping to predict the northern lights.
The Brandon facility is one of only 14 magnetic observatories across Canada monitoring the magnetic field.
The more activity within the field, the higher the chance of seeing aurora borealis in all of its celestial glory.
“The magnetic field changes continuously,” said Benoit St-Louis, electronic engineer with Natural Resources Canada. “Predicting the amount of activity is almost the same as predicting northern lights.”
The magnetic observatory was relocated to Brandon from the University of Manitoba’s Glenea Research Station in 2003.
It uses three different instruments to track the magnetic data and send it to the Canadian Space Weather Forecast Centre in Ottawa.
Space weather looks at the movement of particles from the sun that will affect human activity on Earth, according to the Natural Resources Canada website.
In addition to being able to predict northern lights, the Canadian Space Weather Forecast Centre looks at the effect the changing magnetic field has on navigational tools.
“Compasses point to the magnetic north, which is constantly changing,” St-Louis said. “People need to account for the change to the magnetic field over the years to know where true north is.”
Natural Resources Canada’s website has a tool to calculate the amount of change to be accounted for on a compass. This is different depending on the compass’ location.
“When the first explorers came to Canada, they brought a magnetometer to help track changes,” Benoit said. “At that point, compasses were the only navigational tool.”
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