Northern Lights could be visible as geomagnetic storm expected to reach Earth

Met Office warns increasing cloud cover limits the potential for seeing the event.

Scotland, the north of England and Northern Ireland could catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights on Monday night as a solar storm is expected to reach Earth.

This is thanks to a Coronal Mass Ejection, a massive burst of material from the sun which can cause a phenomenon known as a geomagnetic storm, which interferes with the Earth’s magnetic field.

According to the US Space Weather Prediction Centre, the event could result in power grid fluctuations as well as “orientation irregularities” for spacecraft.

Aurora may be visible as low as New York, to Wisconsin and Washington state. The Met Office has said there is a slight chance of moderate class flares here too, although cloud is likely to block the view for some.

“Aurora is possible through 11th and 12th across much of Scotland, although cloud amounts are increasing, meaning sightings are unlikely for most,” the Met Office said.

“There is a slight chance of aurora reaching the far north of England and Northern Ireland tonight, but cloud breaks and therefore sightings are more likely in Northern Ireland.”

NOAA has put the storm at category G2, which the agency defines as moderate in strength.

Tom Kerss, astronomer and author of Northern Lights: The definitive guide to auroras, urged people to still have a look despite the heavy cloud forecast.

“Unfortunately I think cloud cover is going to be a bit of an issue for Scotland tonight but it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have a go if you have any clear patches at all,” he told the PA news agency.

“It probably has pockets of enhanced energy in it so it could spike in performance every so often, and that means that it’s quite possible that auroras will actually reach down into the north of England and maybe as far south as somewhere like Belfast or Omagh – not terribly far south, but they might just become visible over the sea from anybody that has a north-facing view across the north of England.”

He added that the chance of disruption to the UK is low due to space weather forecasting and electrical engineering.

“We wouldn’t expect to lose power or have any transformers explode or anything with a storm of this magnitude, but it is possible for solar super storms like one that occurred about 150 years ago to cause widespread disruption – we’re just sort of lucky it hasn’t happened yet.”

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