Strongest solar storm in decades hits Earth – as Northern Lights to return to parts of UK tonight | UK News

The most powerful solar tempest in over 20 years has swept across Earth, igniting incredible Northern Lights displays in the UK and across the Northern Hemisphere. This event, however, brings with it risks to vital technologic infrastructures.

Elon Musk’s satellite company Starlink, which operates a majority share of the roughly 7,500 satellites in orbit, providing global internet service, has advised customers that the solar storm may impair its service quality.

Edinburgh. Pic: PA

This G5-class geomagnetic storm is the first of its caliber since 2003, previously causing widespread electrical disruptions in Sweden and transformer damage in South Africa.

What’s behind this intense geomagnetic disturbance?

A flurry of potent solar eruptions ejected massive amounts of magnetized plasma toward Earth, known as coronal mass ejections (CMEs).

The subsequent impact with Earth’s magnetic field has led to significant upheavals.

Are there dangers involved?

Aside from producing breathtakingly beautiful auroras, even in areas typically devoid of the Northern Lights, such as southern England, intense solar storms are known to interfere with communication and navigation technologies.

The solar radiation directly influences Earth’s ionosphere, the interface of Earth’s atmosphere and space. This interaction can raise atmospheric drag on satellites and disturb the radio and GPS signals that traverse or reflect off this atmospheric layer.

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Extreme solar storms can also induce damaging currents within power grids, leading to power outages.

The most colossal geomagnetic storm on record, the 1859 Carrington Event, famously caused telegraph systems to spark and combust.

What are tonight’s chances of the UK witnessing the Northern Lights?

According to Sky News weather expert Kirsty McCabe, “There’s a possibility, though it’s not as high as last night, meaning the auroras may not be as intense or visible in southern regions.

“The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) rated Friday night’s solar storm at an extreme G5 level, a classification not seen since 2003.

“Saturday night’s activity is more likely to register as a robust G3 event.

“Although it may not be visible to the naked eye, using a long exposure setting on your camera phone could capture something truly remarkable. Be sure to look towards the north.”

What factors might hamper a recurrence of the auroras?

Factors such as light pollution, cloud cover, and geographical location can significantly affect the aurora’s visibility.

For real-time updates and stunning nighttime phenomena capture opportunities, staying informed about the weather forecast and solar activity is crucial.

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“Looking ahead to Saturday night, expectations must be moderated to probably a strong G3 event.

“Direct visual detection might be challenging, but smartphone photography with extended exposure could yield some pleasant surprises. Keep your gaze fixed on the northern horizon.”

The aurora borealis, also known as the northern lights, glow on the horizon at Another Place by Anthony Gormley, Crosby Beach, Liverpool , Merseyside . Picture date: Friday May 10, 2024. PA Photo. See PA story WEATHER Aurora. Photo credit should read: Peter Byrne/PA Wire

Crosby Beach, Liverpool. Pic: PA

McCabe advises, “Even if you’re not in the optimal location, places in the northern UK stand a greater chance than those to the south.

“The glare from city lights might interfere with your ability to see the display.

“Clearly, the weather plays a critical role – without clear skies, the aurora may not be visible.

“However, many areas are predicted to have favourable weather, and it’s expected to stay mild through the night.”

What are the prime viewing locations and times?

Whitley Bay. Pic: PA
Whitley Bay. Pic: PA

McCabe points out, “The optimal hours for sighting are between 10pm and 2am, so patience is required until night falls.

“Stay updated through social media on reports of local sightings and look for updates on UK aurora monitoring websites.

“Although the Northern Lights are mostly seen over Scotland, there were sightings further south last night, proving that if solar activity is sufficiently intense, the aurora can be observed from more widespread locations.

“So keep looking up!”

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