A devastating solar storm which could wipe out communications on Earth and fry power grids is a matter of ‘when not if’ the head of the Met Office’s Space Weather Monitoring centre has warned. Extreme space weather has already caused widespread disruption, with a geomagnetic storm leaving six million people without power in 1989 while Apollo astronauts narrowly missed being exposed to deadly

radiation in 1972 and solar flares in 2003 forced the crew of the International Space Station to take cover. The largest solar storm ever recorded, The Carrington Event in 1859, knocked out Telegraph systems and even set fire to paper in offices. To help forecast such devastating phenomena the European Space Agency is launching the Solar Orbiter probe in 2020 to monitor the Sun, and yesterday unveiled the spacecraft at Airbus ahead of a year of testing in Germany. READ MORE