In Summary

This weekend will see potentially the best Northern and Southern light show of the year as two enormous eruptions from the Sun hit the Earth on Friday and Saturday night.

These solar flares send billions of tons of material out at thousands of kilometres per second that cause the famous auroras when they slam into the Earth’s magnetic field. This weekend two large solar flares will arrive in quick succession, with the possibility that Melbourne and Sydney could see the Aurora Australis on Saturday night.

There will be disruption to radio, TV and satellite signals, with possible degradation of GPS tracking accuracy and even electrical power line fluctuations.

Swinburne University of Technology astronomer Dr Alan Duffy says while the light show can not be guaranteed, it is easily the best chance this year to catch the beautiful light show as the two storms arrive nearly on top of each other.

“Earlier in the week a region on the Sun, known as AR2518, erupted in a large solar flare that sent billions of tons of highly magnetised plasma, called a Coronal Mass Ejection, towards the Earth.

“Unusually the very same region erupted again on Thursday (3.42AEST) in an even larger flare, a class X1.6 (where X is the strongest class known). While the first eruption was smaller and was expected to deliver only a glancing blow to the Earth that second, much larger flare, is heading straight for us in a head on collision.

“This one-two combo has meant that the second flare has had a path from the Sun cleared for it by the first eruption, meaning it can hit us at full strength. Exactly how far the aurora will stretch from the poles is difficult to predict but there’s no doubt that this unusual setup has meant we’re in for the best light show of the year.

“A solar flare as large as an X-class is all but guaranteed to interfere with radio, TV and satellite communications. Something as large as this one may even throw your phone’s GPS accuracy off by a footie field. While on the Earth we will be safe from radiation, the astronauts in the International Space Station will be getting about a chest X-ray’s worth.

“Regions such as Canada and Northern Europe will certainly be seeing the Aurora Borealis this weekend while in the southern hemisphere New Zealand will catch the Aurora Australis. It’s certainly possible that the aurora will stretch further from the poles though with cities such as Melbourne and Sydney getting to see the show,” Dr Duffy said.

“If you see your evening TV show this weekend suffering bad reception then instead of becoming frustrated head outside and maybe you’ll be able to catch the stunning aurora overhead.”

Check the chance that your region will see an aurora here for live images of the Northern Lights see here and live feeds of the Sun as seen by NASA here.

For more information or to organise an interview please contact:

Dr Alan Duffy: Twitter@astroduff