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Northern Lights returning to parts of UK tonight after strongest solar storm in decades

The first extreme geomagnetic storm in two decades created a spectacular light show in UK skies last night – and some parts of the country will get to witness a colourful display once again tonight.

Last night’s event across parts of the Northern Hemisphere posed a threat to communication networks, navigation systems and power grids too.

Elon Musk’s Starlink, which owns around 60% of the estimated 7,500 satellites currently in orbit, providing internet coverage around the world, has warned of a “degraded service” as a result of the phenomena.

It was the first G5 or strongest rated geomagnetic storm since 2003, which caused blackouts in Sweden and damaged transformers in South Africa.

So what caused the extreme geomagnetic storm?

A series of strong solar flares spewed from the Sun’s surface have sent a shockwave of magnetically charged plasma directly at the Earth, known as coronal mass ejections (CMEs).

The resulting collision has caused a major disturbance to our own planet’s magnetic field.

Does it pose a threat?

As well as producing extended vivid displays of colour across the skies in places the aurora borealis or Northern Lights cannot usually be seen, as witnessed in southern England, severe solar storms can also disrupt everyday communication and navigation systems.

See the latest weather forecast where you are

The Sun’s energy has a direct impact on the Earth’s ionosphere, where the planet’s atmosphere meets space.

Changing conditions can affect satellites by increasing drag, while radio and GPS signals that travel through this layer of the atmosphere or rely on bouncing off it can also be disrupted.

Severe solar storms can also create harmful geomagnetic induced currents in the power grid, leading to blackouts.

The largest known geomagnetic event in history, known as the Carrington Event of 1859, caused telegraph machines to spark and catch fire.

How likely is it we will see the Northern Lights above the UK tonight?

Sky News weather presenter Kirsty McCabe, says: “There is a chance – but it’s not as likely as last night so unlikely to be as bright or seen as far south.

“America’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) classed Friday night’s solar storm as an extreme G5 – the highest level and first observed since 2003.

“Saturday night will probably be more like a strong G3.

“You might not be able to see it with the naked eye but use a long exposure on your camera phone and you may be pleasantly surprised. Remember to look north.”

What could prevent it from being seen again?

McCabe says: “You might not be in the right place, northern parts of the UK have a better chance than those further south.

“Plus, light pollution from cities could also spoil your view.

“And of course, the weather needs to play its part – if the skies aren’t clear you won’t see the aurora.

“For many places the weather conditions are looking good, plus it is mild overnight.”

Where is it most likely and between what times?

McCabe says: “The best time to spot them is between 10pm and 2am, so you’ll need to wait until it’s dark.

“Keep an eye on social media for any sightings near you and on UK aurora watch sites.

“The Northern Lights are most likely across Scotland, but as with last night, it is possible to see them further south if the solar activity is strong enough.

“Keep your eyes on the skies.”

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