Scotland and other places further away from the Earth’s magnetic poles could lose the Northern Lights in about 30 years, a new study says. A massive reduction in solar energy could shrink the sun’s atmosphere and weaken its influence on Earth, scientists from the University of Reading said in a study published in Scientific Reports. Scientists have called this period a “grand minima”, when the sun will be less active on Earth.

In addition to this, the predicted shifts in solar activity mean that they could affect the planet’s protection from solar flares, and make the sun a big threat to electronic devices. “The magnetic activity of the sun ebbs and flows in predictable cycles, but there is also evidence that it is due to plummet, possibly by the largest amount for 300 years,” said Dr Mathew Owens from the University of Reading.

The scientists believe that around 2050, the sun’s activity could be similar to the Maunder Minimum of the 17th century, during which sun spot activity was hardly recorded. Declining solar activity is marked by a reduction in sunspots, which are formed on the surface of the sun.

The reduction in solar activity could also increase the amount of harmful radiation from outer space to which we are exposed. This will be because the Earth’s protection against radiation will be minimal during the grand minima.

“As the sun becomes less active, sunspots and coronal ejections will become less frequent. However, if a mass ejection did hit the Earth, it could be even more damaging to the electronic devices on which society is now so dependent,” Popular Mechanics quoted Owens as saying.

A coronal mass ejection is a massive release of plasma and magnetic field from the sun, which if directed at the Earth can cause geomagnetic storms that disrupt the planet’s magnetosphere. One such storm hit Quebec, Canada in 1989, affecting the city’s electricity system for nine hours. These storms also affect high frequency radio transmissions, among other things. More recently, a geomagnetic storm was expected to hit Earth in 2012, but passed by without striking the planet.