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Whoops! False Northern Lights alert triggered by lawnmower

British group sent out a red alert for scenic aurora borealis, but uh, a staffer on a riding mower just drove too close to the sensor.

Brits hoping to see the Northern Lights earlier this week received a false alarm email. But hey, at least the lawn got mowed.
Aloysius Low/CNET

"Get off my lawn" took on new meaning on Tuesday. A group of British scientists sent out a notification that the Northern Lights would be visible in their area, but it turned out to be a backyard boo-boo.

AuroraWatch UK is run by Lancaster University's space and planetary physics group, and uses readings from magnetometers to determine if the striking aurora borealis will be visible across Britain. The group uses Twitter, Facebook and email to let followers know when they should head outside and search the skies.

They sent out such an alert on Tuesday, but withdrew the alert four hours later when it turned out the sensor has been set off by something much closer to the ground.

"Unfortunately, the readings were spurious and not related to geomagnetic activity," the site reported. "It, instead, appears that some local interference set off a massive spike in the data (no, it wasn't the intern!)."

Poor interns, always getting blamed. It may not have been the intern, but it turns out it was another university employee.

"We believe the interference was caused by University staff mowing the grass on a sit-on mower," AuroraWatch UK later posted. "We'll work with the facilities team to try and avoid an incident such as this occurring in the future!"

A Facebook follower had a simpler suggestion. Wrote Dale Longson: "Give the university staff a hand-powered mower, or get sheep."

(Via BBC)