They cause the spectacular phenomenon that is the Aurora Borealis.

But solar storms can also be a destructive force that can damage satellite electronics, interrupt radio communications and destabilise electrical power systems.

Now scientists at Trinity College Dublin, working with other researchers from around the world, are to attempt to build a highly accurate solar storm forecasting service for Europe, by studying in great detail the massive explosions of hot gas from the Sun.

The system will use brand new image-processing techniques to provide almost real-time flare forecasting for the first time anywhere in the world.

The team has received a €2.5m grant from the European Commission under the Horizon 2020 fund to run the Flare Likelihood and Region Eruption Forecasting (FLARECAST) project, which was launched today.

The consortium involves scientists from around Europe, including Greece, Italy, France, Switzerland and the UK.

“The project brings together European expertise in fundamental solar physics, artificial intelligence and neural networks, and state-of-the-art data-mining techniques to characterize the sources of solar storms - sunspots - and to upgrade flare forecasting to unprecedented levels of precision," said FLARECAST project scientist and Senior Research Fellow in Physics at Trinity, Dr Shaun Bloomfield.