The sky may be filled with waves of shimmering light late Monday night in Washington. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a “moderate” geomagnetic storm is forecast until Tuesday. According to SpaceWeather.com, the storm results from a solar flare caused by an explosion on the sun. The blaze may not have been visible from Earth, but the geomagnetic storm effects are visual from northern latitudes in the form of auroras. There is a chance that parts of Washington, Wisconsin, and New York may see the lights of the north due to the solar storm.
When collisions of electrons reach Earth’s atmosphere, they produce aurora borealis, the northern lights. According to NOAA, the aurora is caused by the magnetic field of the Earth guiding electrons so that two ovals appear approximately centered at the magnetic poles. The NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center website offers the capability to view the aurora’s intensity and location over most of the United States during major geomagnetic storms. NOAA rated the storm a G2. Electrical systems may be affected, and satellites may encounter problems. Transmission may deteriorate at higher latitudes. The five-scale system reaches “extreme” during a power blackout or grid collapse.
Aurora borealis, or northern lights, is a natural light display usually located high in latitudes. Norway, Iceland, Alaska, and north Canada are some places that offer some of the best viewings of the northern lights. It is possible to see the lights of the north during geomagnetic storms up north, and this week, Americans have an opportunity to find out for themselves why this is on most people’s bucket lists.
NOAA shared a map of the northern lights’ recent appearance in the northeast, including north New York, Michigan, Wisconsin, north of Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, north of Idaho, and Washington. Canada and Alaska have the greatest chances of seeing northern lights.
You should keep a careful eye on the sky tonight for a shot at catching the aurora. According to the NOAA, a few main factors determine your chances of seeing the northern lights. Most importantly, the geomagnetic activity level and your geographical location weigh heavily on the likelihood that you will experience the event (you can find your city’s magnetic latitude on the NOAA website). Here are some tips for northern lights chasers who live in one of these states.
Check the weather forecast to ensure clear skies, and find an area with little or no light pollution. Look to the northern horizon when you are somewhere where there is a clear, dark sky.