The spectacular natural phenomenon that is the Northern Lights could be visible as far south as Scotland, central England, Wales and parts of Northern Ireland this week.

A series of coronal mass ejections (CMEs) and huge solar storm from the sun will hit Earth over the next few days, causing the multi-coloured light show to extend further away from the Arctic Circle than usual.

The Met Office‘s Space Weather arm said the first CME would strike a ‘glancing blow’ tonight, while the second is likely to make a ‘more direct impact’.

It means Aurora borealis could be visible across Scotland, as well as possibly Northern Ireland and much of northern England.

There is also a chance it could be seen in north Wales and central England, the Met Office said.

Wow: The spectacular natural phenomenon that is the Northern Lights could be visible as far south as Scotland (pictured), central England, Wales and parts of Northern Ireland this week

Wow: The spectacular natural phenomenon that is the Northern Lights could be visible as far south as Scotland (pictured), central England, Wales and parts of Northern Ireland this week

Wow: The spectacular natural phenomenon that is the Northern Lights could be visible as far south as Scotland (pictured), central England, Wales and parts of Northern Ireland this week

The Met Office's Space Weather arm said the first CME would strike a 'glancing blow' tonight (pictured), while the second is likely to make a 'more direct impact'

The Met Office's Space Weather arm said the first CME would strike a 'glancing blow' tonight (pictured), while the second is likely to make a 'more direct impact'

The Met Office’s Space Weather arm said the first CME would strike a ‘glancing blow’ tonight (pictured), while the second is likely to make a ‘more direct impact’

The Northern Lights are predominantly seen in high-latitude regions, so any glimpse across the UK is a rare treat for stargazers.

WHAT ARE CORONAL MASS EJECTIONS?

Coronal mass ejections (CMEs) are large clouds of plasma and magnetic field that erupt from the sun. 

These clouds can erupt in any direction, and then continue on in that direction, plowing through solar wind. 

These clouds only cause impacts to Earth when they’re aimed at Earth. 

They tend to be much slower than solar flares, as they move a greater amount of matter. 

CMEs can be triggered when a storm on the surface of the sun causes a whirlwind to form at the base of plasma loops that project from the surface. 

These loops are called prominences and when they become unstable they can break, releasing the CME into space.

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But CMEs caused by intense solar activity can make it possible to spot the spectacle much further south.

They send charged particles towards Earth which hit our planet and interact with oxygen and nitrogen in the atmosphere, emitting green and red colours over our poles.

The good news for most UK observers tonight is that cloud cover should be almost non-existent, with the exception of over Northern Ireland.

The best way to see the Northern Lights will be to find a dark place away from street lights and ideally a cloud-free sky, according to the British Geological Survey. 

Experts say skywatchers should generally look to the north, although the spectacular sight can be overhead or elsewhere. 

Looking up at around midnight provides the best chance to spot it, they add. 

In a statement, the Met Office’s Space Weather arm detailed how the two CMEs may affect the Earth. 

‘One, as a low confidence glancing blow later on 19 Apr, with a more direct impact likely either on 20 or 21 Apr,’ the Met Office said.

‘The CME on 20/21 Apr is likely to lead to visible aurora across Scotland, perhaps Northern Ireland and much of Northern England, with a low chance of aurora visible to North Wales and central England.’

Aurora borealis could be visible across Scotland, as well as possibly Northern Ireland and much of northern England

Aurora borealis could be visible across Scotland, as well as possibly Northern Ireland and much of northern England

Aurora borealis could be visible across Scotland, as well as possibly Northern Ireland and much of northern England

There is also a chance it could be seen in north Wales and central England thanks to the direct hit from the second coronal mass ejection, the Met Office said

There is also a chance it could be seen in north Wales and central England thanks to the direct hit from the second coronal mass ejection, the Met Office said

There is also a chance it could be seen in north Wales and central England thanks to the direct hit from the second coronal mass ejection, the Met Office said

Of the solar storm, it added: ‘There is a very slight chance of G1/Minor storm intervals again due to the potential glancing CME later on 19 Apr. 

‘Activity is likely to reach Active to G1/Minor Storm levels on 20 or 21 Apr due to the anticipated CME arrival, with a chance of G2/Moderate or G3/Strong Storm conditions.’

Sunspots are areas on the sun’s surface where powerful magnetic fields become tangled and eventually release a huge explosion of energy that results in a solar flare. 

Although our sun gives us life, it also frequently ‘sneezes’, ejecting billions of tonnes of hot plasma into space in colossal blobs of matter threaded with magnetic fields — in other words, CMEs.

It emits gigantic flares, bursts of powerful electromagnetic radiation — x-rays, gamma rays and radio bursts — accompanied by streams of highly energetic particles.

The good news for most UK observers tonight is that cloud cover should be almost non-existent, with the exception of over Northern Ireland

The good news for most UK observers tonight is that cloud cover should be almost non-existent, with the exception of over Northern Ireland

The good news for most UK observers tonight is that cloud cover should be almost non-existent, with the exception of over Northern Ireland

CMEs usually take around 15 to 18 hours to reach Earth.

The aurora appears when atoms in Earth’s high-altitude atmosphere collide with energetic charged particles from the sun, creating breathtaking colours of green with a hint of pink, red and violet.

It is more often seen in winter when the nights are cold, long and dark.

When a solar storm heads our way, some of the energy and small particles can travel down the magnetic field lines at the north and south poles into Earth’s atmosphere.

There, the particles interact with gases in our atmosphere resulting in beautiful displays of light in the sky — the aurora, or Northern Lights. Oxygen gives off green and red light, while nitrogen glows blue and purple.

The aurora can be seen near the poles of both the northern and southern hemispheres. In the north the display is known as the aurora borealis, and in the south it is called the aurora australis.

SOLAR STORMS PRESENT A CLEAR DANGER TO ASTRONAUTS AND CAN DAMAGE SATELLITES

Solar storms, or solar activity, can be divided into four main components that can have impacts on Earth:  

  • Solar flares: A large explosion in the sun’s atmosphere. These flares are made of photons that travel out directly from the flare site. Solar flares impact Earth only when they occur on the side of the sun facing Earth.  
  • Coronal Mass Ejections (CME’s): Large clouds of plasma and magnetic field that erupt from the sun. These clouds can erupt in any direction, and then continue on in that direction, plowing through solar wind. These clouds only cause impacts to Earth when they’re aimed at Earth. 
  • High-speed solar wind streams: These come from coronal holes on the sun, which form anywhere on the sun and usually only when they are closer to the solar equator do the winds impact Earth. 
  • Solar energetic particles: High-energy charged particles thought to be released primarily by shocks formed at the front of coronal mass ejections and solar flares. When a CME cloud plows through solar wind, solar energetic particles can be produced and because they are charged, they follow the magnetic field lines between the Sun and Earth. Only charged particles that follow magnetic field lines that intersect Earth will have an impact. 

While these may seem dangerous, astronauts are not in immediate danger of these phenomena because of the relatively low orbit of manned missions.

However, they do have to be concerned about cumulative exposure during space walks.

This photo shows the sun's coronal holes in an x-ray image. The outer solar atmosphere, the corona, is structured by strong magnetic fields, which when closed can cause the atmosphere to suddenly and violently release bubbles of gas and magnetic fields called coronal mass ejections

This photo shows the sun's coronal holes in an x-ray image. The outer solar atmosphere, the corona, is structured by strong magnetic fields, which when closed can cause the atmosphere to suddenly and violently release bubbles of gas and magnetic fields called coronal mass ejections

This photo shows the sun’s coronal holes in an x-ray image. The outer solar atmosphere, the corona, is structured by strong magnetic fields, which when closed can cause the atmosphere to suddenly and violently release bubbles or tongues of gas and magnetic fields called coronal mass ejections

The damage caused by solar storms 

Solar flares can damage satellites and have an enormous financial cost.

The charged particles can also threaten airlines by disturbing Earth’s magnetic field.

Very large flares can even create currents within electricity grids and knock out energy supplies.

When Coronal Mass Ejections strike Earth they cause geomagnetic storms and enhanced aurora.

They can disrupt radio waves, GPS coordinates and overload electrical systems.

A large influx of energy could flow into high voltage power grids and permanently damage transformers.

This could shut off businesses and homes around the world. 

Source: NASA – Solar Storm and Space Weather 

This post first appeared on Dailymail.co.uk

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