Look up tonight! Northern lights could be seen as far south as Newcastle when a ‘double whammy’ of solar storms slams into Earth: how and when to see them
- The Northern Lights may be visible from the south to the north of England tonight
- Auroras may also occur during the next two nights, claims the Met Office
A stunning display of the Northern Lights could be in store for many lucky Brits tonight, with a “double whammy” of solar storms slamming onto Earth.
Lucky stargazers as far south as Newcastle may have a chance to see the colorful aurora that arises as a result of a coronal mass ejection (CME).
This consists of a sudden release of plasma from the Sun’s corona, the outermost part of its atmosphere, which is composed of charged particles.
In a fast-wind environment, these move toward Earth’s atmosphere, appearing as a vibrant array of colors in the night sky.
The Met Office says the aurora will break out over Scotland and Northern Ireland, with the potential to spread over northern England as well.
The Northern Lights may be visible from the south to the north of England tonight. Pictured: Northern Lights in Northumberland
WHAT ARE CORONAL MASS EJECTIONS?
Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs) are large clouds of highly magnetized, energetic plasma that erupt from the Sun.
These clouds can erupt in any direction and then continue in that direction, making their way through the solar wind.
These clouds only cause impacts on Earth when they are pointed at Earth.
They tend to be much slower than solar flares, since they move a greater amount of matter.
CMEs can be activated when a storm on the sun’s surface causes a vortex to form at the base of loops of plasma projecting from the surface.
These loops are called bulges and when they become unstable they can break, releasing the CME into space.
A spokesperson told MailOnline: ‘The northern lights may improve overnight tonight with the arrival of a coronal mass ejection.
They are most likely to reach Scotland, parts of northern England and Northern Ireland.
“However, visibility can be poor for many, with clouds and rain for many in those regions overnight, as well as only a small window where it is dark enough as it is in summer.”
While this is likely to extend as far south as Newcastle, the Met Office also said it’s difficult to pinpoint specific cities thanks to the overnight cloud.
The shorter hours of darkness also contribute to this uncertainty, since the summer solstice occurred only a few weeks ago.
Still, forecasts show the auroras moving across the UK for three nights in a row from midnight tonight through July 9.
The Northern Lights are forecast to shine their brightest tonight between midnight and 3am, blanketing not only the UK but also the US East Coast in a horseshoe formation.
They may then move north before circling towards the UK once more, with an aurora perhaps visible once more between 9pm and midnight tomorrow night.
After that, the far north of the UK may have the chance to see the aurora for the last time on Saturday or Sunday between 9pm and 3am.
The Northern Lights will continue to weaken and slide north over Greenland, the US East Coast, and parts of Russia.
The Northern Lights are forecast to shine their brightest tonight between midnight and 3am, blanketing not only the UK but also the horseshoe-shaped east coast of the US.
The aurora may then move north before circling towards the UK once more, with an aurora perhaps visible once more between 9pm and midnight tomorrow night.
But those to the south of the world in Australia and New Zealand are unlikely to see the aurora.
This is quite common, as the auroras are most likely to be seen from the Arctic and Antarctic circles.
Oxygen emits green and red light, while nitrogen glows blue and purple, and the lights are most often seen in winter when the nights are cold, long, and dark.
Energy and small particles from solar activity travel along magnetic field lines toward Earth’s poles, so they appear most strongly there.
The phenomenon is only seen from further away when this activity is especially strong.
To see an aurora, dark, clear skies are a must, as the northern lights cannot be seen during the day.
The spectacle doesn’t need to be directly overhead, but it can be observed from up to 620 miles (1,000 km) away as long as it shines brightly, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
SOLAR STORMS POSE A CLEAR DANGER TO ASTRONAUTS AND CAN DAMAGE SATELLITES
solar stormsor solar activity, can be divided into four main components that may have impacts on Earth:
- solar flares: A huge explosion in the sun’s atmosphere. These flares are made of photons traveling directly from the site of the flare. Solar flares impact Earth only when they occur on the Earth-facing side of the sun.
- Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs): Large clouds of plasma and magnetic field sprouting from the sun. These clouds can erupt in any direction and then continue in that direction, making their way through the solar wind. These clouds only cause impacts on Earth when they are pointed at Earth.
- High speed solar wind currents: These come from coronal holes in the sun, which form anywhere on the sun and usually only when closest to the solar equator do winds impact Earth.
- solar energetic particles: High-energy charged particles thought to be released primarily by shocks formed in front of coronal mass ejections and solar flares. When a CME cloud passes through the solar wind, energetic solar 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 from these phenomena due to the relatively low orbit of crewed missions.
However, they do have to worry about cumulative exposure during spacewalks.
This photo shows the sun’s coronal holes in an X-ray image. The solar outer 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 fields magnetic waves called coronal mass ejections.
Damage caused by solar storms
Solar flares can damage satellites and have a huge financial cost.
Charged particles can also threaten airlines by disturbing Earth’s magnetic field.
Very large flares can even create currents within power grids and shut off power.
When coronal mass ejections hit Earth, they cause geomagnetic storms and intensified auroras.
They can disrupt radio waves, GPS coordinates, and overload electrical systems.
A large influx of power could flow into high-voltage power grids and permanently damage transformers.
This could close businesses and homes around the world.
Fountain: NASA – Solar Storm and Space Weather