After the sun sent several waves of energy toward Earth earlier this week, a spectacular display of aurora borealis in United States could light up the northern skies from Wednesday to Friday. A strong geomagnetic storm, rated G3, is expected to reach Earth on Thursday and Friday.
According to Bill Murtagh, program coordinator at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Space Weather Prediction Center, a strong G3 storm “brings the northern lights down into the United States.” Skywatchers could see the dancing light show from New England across the Great Lakes into northwest Oregon and Washington state, according to him.
That is, if clouds don’t interfere.
Sky watchers in the Upper Midwest and New England may encounter too much cloud cover on Wednesday to see the aurora borealis in United States. On Thursday, when the geomagnetic storm is expected to be at its strongest, scattered cloud cover remains a possibility across much of the northern tier of the country, though much of Montana, Michigan, New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island are all expected to have mostly clear skies.
When the sun sends a burst of energy and particles toward Earth via solar flares, coronal mass ejections, or solar wind streams, auroras form. Some solar particles collide with the Earth’s magnetosphere and travel down magnetic field lines into the upper atmosphere, where they can excite nitrogen and oxygen molecules and release photons of light, resulting in the northern lights.
Several coronal mass ejections (CMEs), or large expulsions of plasma and magnetic material from the sun, were created in this case over the past few days in a particularly active region of the sun. Coronal mass ejections are occurring just below a massive coronal hole that spans the sun’s northern and southern hemispheres. A coronal hole emits a high-velocity solar wind full of particles, which can cause minor geomagnetic disturbances on Earth.
Much of the solar energy is directed toward Earth, where it is expected to cause moderate-to-strong geomagnetic storms. Geomagnetic storm watches have been issued by NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center for Earth from Wednesday to Friday.
How to See the Northern Lights in the United States
Auroras can be seen without any special equipment.
Choose a location with little light pollution.
If possible, move to a higher elevation.
Check the forecast for clouds or precipitation that could obscure your view.
Scan the skies — despite the name, they can appear from any direction.