Massive 'solar storm' set to hit Earth could bring Northern Lights to Lancashire

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A 'solar storm' is set to slam into Earth tonight - and it could bring stunning displays of the the Northern Lights to the north of England.

The storm, which could theoretically knock out satellites or create power cuts, was created last week by an enormous explosion in the sun's atmosphere known as a solar flare.

Displays of the the Northern Lights may be visible tonight

Displays of the the Northern Lights may be visible tonight

READ MORE: Northern Lights photos from Greenland, Iceland and Finland by astrophotographer Juan Carlos Casad

Charged particles from that flare are now on their way to our planet - and are predicted to hit tonight.

The arrival of the solar storm coincides with the formation of 'equinox cracks' in Earth's magnetic field, which form around the equinoxes on March 20 and September 23 every year.

These cracks weaken our planet's natural protection against charged particles, potentially leaving aeroplanes and GPS systems exposed to the storm.

The cracks also mean those looking up to the skies are more likely to catch glimpses of the Northern Lights this week.

This may include parts of Scotland and northern England, as well as parts of the north of America.

Charged, magnetic particles from the solar storm can interfere with machinery in Earth's orbit as well as at the planet's surface, such as GPS systems and radio signals.

They can also threaten airlines by disturbing Earth's magnetic field.

Very large flares can even create currents within electricity grids and knock out energy supplies.

A spokesman for NASA said: "Solar flares and CMEs are not a danger to humans on Earth's surface, as the planet's magnetic field (magnetosphere) and atmosphere deflect and absorb the solar energy and particles.

"The sun storms can pose some risks to astronauts, and they can upset the electronics and transmissions on science, military, and communications satellites.

"Closer to Earth's surface, solar activity can cause disruptions of radio signals (particularly HF), provide a small dose of radiation to passengers on high-latitude flights, and provoke auroras (northern and southern lights).

"The storm is impressive by recent standards, but nowhere near the maximum intensities often generated at the height of the solar cycle.

“I would expect that we will see more storms like this one or even bigger as we get closer to solar maximum,” said Michael Hesse, chief of heliophysics at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center."