Good news for sky watchers, bad news for sky travelers: The eruption of a volcano in Iceland means that all flights to and from Ireland and the U.K. are grounded until 6 a.m. GMT tomorrow morning, and airports have closed in Sweden, France, Denmark, Finland, Belgium, and the Netherlands. That means a lot of very unhappy people at airports throughout Europe. And this is when the classic understatement of the Brits comes into its own: "I'm meant to be going to Lanzarote," said one passenger interviewed at Glasgow airport. "We've traveled from Oban, leaving at 3 a.m. Now we've decided we might as well just go home and do a bit of gardening."
Excellent choice, sir, if I might say so. According to Robin Scagell of the U.K.'s Society for Popular Astronomy, the cloud of ash drifting over the U.K. is going to make for some stunning sunsets. "Be ready to enjoy some dazzling arrays of colors, especially purples and reds looking much stronger than usual." The effects will not be confined to the skies above Europe.
When a volcano erupts, the mixture of ash and sulphur compounds create a volcanic aerosol in the stratosphere. The ensuing blue glow, invisible to the eye, reacts with the sun's red light when it sets and turns skies violet, crimson and purple. You may even see a blue moon.
However, anyone thinking that beautiful sunsets=bikini weather might want to consider having a Michael Phelps-esque LZR Racer tailored for them--in wolfskin. All that ash in the atmosphere means less sunlight will get through to the earth's surface, which will mean a colder summer. When Mount Tambora erupted in 1815, the resulting changes to the weather the following year included snow in June, and rivers as far south as Pennsylvania froze.
A professor of geophysics at the University of Iceland has, however, warned that Eyjafjallajokull could continue belching lava and ash for a couple more months, which doesn't bode well for Europeans hoping to fly somewhere sunny for their summer holidays. The last time it erupted was in 1821, and the volcanic activity continued, on and off, for a year. "If there is any rule about volcanos, it is: There is no rule," professor Pall Einarsson said. The airline bosses will be quaking in their complimentary first-class slippers.