Solar flare headed for Earth this week could trigger Christmas showing of northern lights

A HUGE storm cloud has been expelled from the Sun and it's heading towards Earth.

This solar flare is expected to hit the Earth's magnetic field on December 23 and it could be strong enough to disrupt satellites and the power grid.

The incoming solar storm is caused by a type of solar flare called a coronal mass ejection (CME) – a huge expulsion of plasma from the Sun's outer layer, called the corona.

Experts at SpaceWeather.com said: "A CME is heading for Earth.

"The storm cloud left the Sun on Dec. 20th (1136 UT), propelled by an M1.9-class solar flare in the magnetic canopy of sunspot AR2908.

"NOAA forecasters expect a glancing blow to Earth's magnetic field on Dec. 23rd, possibly sparking a G1-class geomagnetic storm. Christmas Lights, anyone?"

Each solar storm that hits Earth is graded by severity and the one on December 23 is only expected to be a "G1 minor".

This means it could cause weak power grid fluctuations and have a small impact on satellite communications.

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A G1 storm can also confuse migrating animals that rely on the Earth's magnetic field for a sense of direction.

One good thing about solar storms is that they can produce very pretty natural light displays like the northern lights.

Those natural light displays are called auroras and are examples of the Earth's magnetosphere getting bombarded by solar wind, which creates the pretty green and blue displays.

It's currently unclear whether sky watchers in the US or UK will get a good view of an aurora on December 23 but the light displays are best viewed near the polar regions.

The Earth's magnetic field helps to protect us from the more extreme consequences of solar flares.

In 1989, a strong solar eruption shot so many electrically charged particles at Earth that the Canadian Province of Quebec lost power for nine hours.

As well as causing issues for our tech on Earth, they can be deadly for an astronaut if they result in injury or interfere with mission control communications.

The Sun is currently at the start of a new 11 year solar cycle, which usually sees eruptions and flares grow more intense and extreme.

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