Northern Lights and electronic disruption on the way after massive solar flare

The biggest space weather storm in five years is heading towards Earth and could disrupt power grids, GPS systems, satellites and airline flights, Nasa has warned. And the Northern Lights could be even more visible than ever over Donegal, if the weather co-operates and skies are clear.

The biggest space weather storm in five years is heading towards Earth and could disrupt power grids, GPS systems, satellites and airline flights, Nasa has warned. And the Northern Lights could be even more visible than ever over Donegal, if the weather co-operates and skies are clear.

The storm is the result of a massive X5-class solar flare yesterday, according to David Moore of Astronomy Ireland. He explained: “Earth is expected to be hit by the resulting coronal mass ejection (CME) today. This cloud of energised gas is expected to trigger auroral displays all over the world, including Ireland, tonight (Thursday) night and tomorrow (Friday)morning.

“There is a significant chance that the aurora borealis (northern lights) will be visible from Ireland. We suggest keeping an eye on the northern sky throughout Thursday evening and into Friday morning. If it appears, the aurora will have a faint glow and, if the activity is particularly strong, it may have a green and/or red colour. The aurora will most likely be visible just over the northern horizon, but a strong display can result in the aurora being visible all over the sky.

“Ideally it is best to watch the aurorae from a location as far north as possible, but considering on the strength of this particular CME from the Sun, they may be visible further south. We recommend picking anywhere that has a dark sky with a clear northern horizon. This can be a location just outside a town or city, or a dark parkland area.

“If you see the aurora borealis, please let us know what you saw by emailing observe@astronomy.ie. We will aim to include reports and photographs in an upcoming issue of Astronomy & Space. As geomagnetic storms can affect radio communications, we also welcome reports from amateur radio operators.”

Kenneth McDonagh of the Donegal Weather Channel, says the results of the solar flare are already being seen across the Atlantic. “Shortly after the CME impact, a burst of Northern Lights appeared over the US-Canadian border. Photographers all over Donegal took some amazing pictures the last time and I know they’ll all be out in force again. Weather permitting, they could get some more extraordinary photos.”