The Northern Lights could be seen over parts of southern England tonight after the sun unleashed a massive solar flare that is thought to be the largest in a decade.
The incredible phenomena on Wednesday spawned especially stunning auroras that were visible in the skies tonight and now going into the weekend.
Those in high-altitude regions will have the best chance of spotting the impressive Northern Lights displays, which could be visible from more locations than usual.
Alistair McLean, Managing Director of The Aurora Zone said: “Following the magnitude of the recent solar flare, we are anticipating widespread Aurora storms.
“The CMEs’ arrival is expected to trigger a G3 magnetic storm in the atmosphere which, in turn, will create more prolific Northern Lights displays in northern territories and maybe some sightings in areas well beyond the usual boundaries.
“It is, therefore, a possibility that the Northern Lights could even be viewed in Southern England.
“!Both the Space Weather Prediction Center and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)believe outstanding displays will occur tonight.”
Here’s the best way to see the Northern Lights tonight and over the weekend.
Get away from light pollution
To see the aurora you need a strong solar wind, which we have at the moment, but you also need clear and dark skies – so get as far away from cities and towns as you can.
It’s best to see the lights in a “dark sky location” during the peak hours of roughly 9pm and 1am.
Get a good view of the Northern horizon
The Northern Lights will be occurring to the north-east of the UK, so make sure you have a good view of the northern horizon.
Quite often, going to beaches, headlands or the top of hills is very good, but if can get to somewhere in Scotland, even the Shetland Isles, then that would be the best bet.
Aurora Watch UK issues regular about the lights activity – and when they are visible.
It provides a ‘traffic light’ system of how likely it is for people to see the lights and where from.
Tonight the organisation tweeted: “Amber alert: possible aurora.”
Two solar flares were unleashed early on Wednesday morning, the second of which was classed as an X9.3 flare – the largest we’ve seen in the current solar cycle, which began in December 2008.
Solar cycles usually last for around 11 years and sees changes in a number of areas including radiation and the amount of solar material ejected into space.
Both flares erupted from an active region on the sun labelled as AR 2673, which also produced a smaller flare earlier in the week.
NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, which constantly monitors the sun for activity, captured stunning images of both flares on Wednesday.
The sunspot that is thought to have caused the massive solar eruption is still visible – but only if you’re using special solar viewing glasses left over from last month’s solar eclipse . Looking at the sun without these protective goggles can cause irreparable eye damage.
Because of the impact that these solar flares can have on Earth, scientists constantly monitor ‘space weather’ in order to try and predict when these events will take place and the effect they might have.
Along with communication interference, solar storms can also cause surges to run through power grids on Earth, potentially causing power backouts.
In July, NASA scientists spotted a gigantic solar storm on the surface of the sun which, it warned, could produce massive solar flares.
In April, the space agency captured images of several mid-level solar flares that caused at least four significant shortwave radio blackouts.
*A coronal mass ejection (CME) is a significant release of plasma and magnetic field from the solar corona.