Massive Solar Storm causes Northern Lights

Solarflare
If you live in the Northern hemisphere, your chances of seeing the Northern Lights have just increased!

As we reported in our recent post about Aurora Borealis, it is usually only locations much closer to the Arctic, such as Norway, Iceland, Sweden, Finland and Alaska that are able to see this amazing natural spectacle.  

However, thanks to a spectacular solar storm this week, you may get a glimpse of the Northern Lights even if you live much further south.  Canada, Northern Ireland, Scotland and England have already been able to report sightings rarely seen so far south.

The reason for these extra sightings is due to a huge coronal mass ejection (CME) from the sun towards the Earth.

You can see from NASA's close-up of the January 22nd, M8.7 Solar Flare that a huge mass of hot gas erupts outwards sending light and high-speed particles into space.  The increased numbers of highly energetic protons that rush towards the Earth's atmosphere during a solar storm can cause interference with short wave radio communications, GPS signals and the Earth's power grid.  As the particles come into contact with the Earth's magnetic field they create the visual display of eerie lights that are usually only reserved for our Scandinavian cousins.

Several NASA spacecraft that specialize in solar observations have reported that the eruption comes from 'sunspot 1402' which has become increasingly active recently.  Solar activity tends to increase every 11 years and this is expected to be the strongest solar storm since 2005.  As solar activity during this cycle is due to reach it's maximum during 2013, it's likely that more flares will occur.

Have you seen the Northern Lights?  Leave a comment and tell us where you were when you saw them!

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