Space storm on the Sun's surface

A pair of scorching explosions on the Sun's surface is sparking the biggest magnetic storm the Earth has experienced in five years.

Images of this region show a complex network of sunspots indicating a large amount of stored magnetic energy.

The storm may disrupt power grids, GPS systems and satellites, and has already forced some airlines to change their routes around the polar regions.

All this activity means there is a good chance of seeing the northern lights at higher latitudes, if the skies are clear. It may be possible to see them in the UK on Thursday night.

Other solar magnetic storms have been observed in recent decades. One huge solar flare in 1972 cut off long-distance telephone communication in the midwestern state of Illinois.

Image courtesy of AFP/Nasa