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When and where to see the solar storm in UK : Northern Lights forecast

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Published Time: 11.05.2024 - 05:40:16 Modified Time: 11.05.2024 - 05:40:16

Earth ‘right in the firing line’ of strong eruptions from the Sun triggering aurora at more southerly latitudes than normal GETTY IMAGES The most powerful solar storm in almost 20 years hit Earth on Friday night, with the Northern Lights visible across much of the UK

Earth ‘right in the firing line’ of strong eruptions from the Sun triggering aurora at more southerly latitudes than normal

: GETTY IMAGES

The most powerful solar storm in almost 20 years hit Earth on Friday night, with the Northern Lights visible across much of the UK.

Britons took to beaches, hilltops and their back gardens to see the aurora borealis as it sparkled across the sky.

Bursts of charged particles from a series of powerful eruptions from the Sun’s surface are careering directly towards Earth at around 900 km/s, more than twice as fast as usual.

The buffeting wind collided with our planet’s magnetic field at around 2am BST on Saturday morning and this triggered a strong aurora at more southerly latitudes than normal.

Prof Mathew Owens, the professor of space physics at the University of Reading, told The Telegraph: “In the last 48 hours we have seen a whole series of coronal mass ejections (CMEs) from the Sun, and they seem to be directed straight at us.

“The scale of this activity is high but not particularly unusual for the maximum phase of the Sun’s 11-year cycle. But it just so happens that Earth is in the firing line this time.

“Our forecast is showing six or seven eruptions piling up en route from the Sun to the Earth. Space is a mess right now. They’re likely to arrive in the early hours.”

Best place to see Northern Lights in UK

People across the UK saw the aurora on Friday night and Saturday morning – and the phenomenon could continue on Saturday night too.

: PA

Meteorologists say Scotland and the North of England will be the best places to see any upcoming aurorae from the large solar storm heading to Earth. 

The geomagnetic disturbance is expected to be so significant it could spread south enough to be visible across the entire UK. 

People hoping to see the Northern Lights should head somewhere dark, away from light pollution, and with a clear sky. 

With plenty of clear skies in the forecast, there is a good chance of seeing the Aurora across the northern half of the UK, and perhaps further south with long exposure photography ????However, as the nights are shorter, the duration of any sightings may be limited ✨ pic.twitter/bx1QQG9qF0

Dr Dan Brown, an associate professor of astronomy at Nottingham Trent University, said the only significant issue is that the skies do not get dark for too long at this time of year. 

“So make sure to pick a dark sky place with darker skies due North and then fingers crossed,” he told The Telegraph. 

What time will Northern Lights be visible?

A range of solar eruptions have sent charged particles directly towards Earth over the last few days, and due to the slipstream they are all heading towards Earth together. 

The particles are travelling at around 900km/s and began hitting Earth on Friday.

More stunning light shows could be visible on Saturday night as the storm continues.

How long will they be visible for?

The scale of the geomagnetic storm heading to Earth is the largest in two decades and the effects will likely last several days. 

The Northern Lights may still appear (in places with clear skies and not thunderstorms) on Saturday evening.

CME travel and arrival is hard to predict, especially with several individual emissions from the Sun. 

Dr Ed Bloomer, an astronomer at the Royal Observatory Greenwich, told The Telegraph that we could have some Northern Lights into next week.

“It may be that the maximum auroral activity is actually present on Monday and Thursday of next week,” he said. 

‘Potential for some cracking northern lights’

“The activity we are currently seeing is all linked to a very very big sunspot on our Sun called AR3664. This is a region of high activity on the sun with quite strong magnetic fields,” Dr Brown said.

“It is really big, so much so that if using eclipse glasses you can see it with the naked eye. The CMEs will have the potential for some cracking northern lights over this weekend.”

The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) monitors space weather and has classed this weekend’s bout of space weather as a “severe” G4 event, the second highest classification.

: DPA

The storm has a KP index of eight and this category of geomagnetic storm and disruption to the magnetic field could cause “possible widespread voltage control problems”.

Level of storm not seen since 2005

Dr Bloomer said there has been a pair of “X-class flares in the last two days” which has seen the solar storm escalate from a G2 grade to a G4.

NOAA’s website says this level of storm, last seen in 2005, could also cause disruption to high frequency radio, hours of satellite navigation degradation, and aurora as low as 45° latitude, which reaches as far south as the Black Sea, Japan, and France.

“Forecasting CME arrival is very difficult. But what’s even harder is forecasting the impact – strength of aurora, effects on power network, etc,” said Prof Owens.

“That’s because it all depends on the strength and direction of the magnetic field inside the CMEs, and we basically have no information about that until the CMEs pass spacecraft close to Earth.”

Technology in space and on Earth could be affected

Dr Maria Walach, an astrophysicist working as part of the AuroraWatch UK team at the University of Lancaster, told The Telegraph there could be aurora across the UK after the jets of particles arrive from the Sun overnight. 

“It will be visible in the UK if it is cloud free, especially in the north,” she said.

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