Brits could see Northern Lights tonight thanks to severe geomagnetic storm

The Northern Lights previously seen over the Isle of Skye
The Northern Lights over Kyleakin on the Isle of Skye in 2023 -Credit:PA

Stargazers could be in for a treat tonight with the chance that the Northern Lights are visible across the country due to a severe geometric storm.

Experts have warned of massive disruption to power grids, mobile phone networks and GPS satellites from the storm on Friday. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in the US said the "unusual event" could happen, making it the first to strike Europe in almost 20 years.

On Thursday, NOAA issued the Severe (G4) Geomagnetic Storm Watch, which was last announced in January 2005, when the Earth was struck by the hugest amount of radiation it had witnessed in half a century. The warning comes after a string of solar flares occurred on Wednesday, which saw multiple expulsions of plasma from the sun, being spotted.

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But it does mean that there is the chance to see a spectacular aurora, which is dancing ribbons of light that captivate onlookers from Earth, and the clear skies today mean that everyone in the UK could catch a glimpse.

Mathew Owens, professor of space physics at the University of Reading, had told Brits the exact time they should be looking at the sky tonight.

He said: " Over the past 48 hours we have seen a series of eruptions - known as coronal mass ejections (CMEs) - from the Sun, and they seem to be headed right at us. Our forecast is showing six or seven of these eruptions piling up en route from the Sun to the Earth. Space is a mess right now."

"Forecasting CME arrival time is very difficult, but our best estimate is around 2am (BST, Saturday, 11 May) tonight. If you're late to bed or up before sunrise, it's worth looking north as you may see the Northern Lights. A strong aurora is probable for Scotland and northern England (and the weather looks to be cooperating for optimal viewing). It may stretch further south, but until we have those magnetic field measurements when the CMEs arrive, it's hard to say."

"What's really difficult is forecasting the likely effects of these eruptions and the impact they could have on communications and power on Earth. 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."

"The scale of this activity is rare, but not particularly unusual for the maximum phase of the Sun's 11-year cycle. It just so happens that Earth is in the firing line this time."

The Northern Lights are normally only visible in latitudes closer to the Arctic with Scandinavian countries typically able to see the dazzling light display but the good weather conditions mean that even people in Cornwall may be able to enjoy watching it.

BBC Weather presenter Simon King said there is an increased chance of seeing the natural wonder on Friday and Saturday night. "There's a been a lot of activity on the Sun which means charged particles are hurtling towards Earth (and the) aurora could be visible across the whole of the UK tonight and Saturday night," he said.

Mr King added that there is a "shorter amount of dark skies" as our days are longer at the moment but that when it does get darker skies will be "clear". He pointed out: "The geomagnetic storm heading our way will be one of the strongest in a long time, hence the significantly enhanced auroral activity."

And Met Office spokesman Stephen Dixon agreed: "Although the shorter nights will limit the visibility window, there's a good chance to see the aurora, particularly on Friday night and especially in Scotland, Ireland and parts of northern England and Wales. There could even be visibility further south if you have the right equipment. Those conditions could continue on Saturday night but we still have to work out some details on where exactly that will be."