NIGHT SKY: Northern Lights “likely” this evening

A large grouping of sunspots provide a good chance of auroral displays as far south as England tonight

The lights are the result of solar particles colliding with gases in Earth's atmosphere. Image Credit: Joshua Strang

The lights are the result of solar particles colliding with gases in Earth’s atmosphere. Image Credit: Joshua Strang

Astronomers have spotted a large and impressive sunspot group, dubbed Region 2529 by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which are clearly visible and moving to an Earth-facing position. The spots provide a good chance of causing springtime auroral displays as far south as England this evening.

NOAA space weather forecasters estimate a 75 per cent chance of the sunspot causing a G1-class geomagnetic storms on 14 April as Earth continues to move through a stream of solar wind coming from the sunspot.

The heart shaped sunspot, which measures more than three times the size of Earth, is so big that it can even be seen on the surface of the Sun without magnification using solar filter glasses.

As well as causing the chance of aurora at lower latitudes, scientists at NOAA, say a solar storm could cause “weak power grid fluctuations” and “minor impact on satellites.”

Although less active than other sunspots studied, it is moving into an Earth facing position and has already caused a few minor coronal mass ejections further indicators of possible Northern Lights activity. Jonny Cooper, aurora tourism expert and owner of Northern Lights travel specialist company Off the Map Travel adds: “This is one of the biggest sunspots of the year, and although it is impossible to know for sure if, or when, it will cause aurora displays, I will certainly be keeping my eyes skyward.”

Cooper continues: “There are never any guarantees when it comes to seeing the Northern Lights, however the further north you go, the better your chance of experiencing an auroral display.”

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