Experts predict the northern lights will be visible from US states as far south as Colorado and Missouri on Tuesday.
A remarkable geomagnetic storm is thought to be the result of the arrival of a coronal mass ejection that erupted from the solar surface on Saturday, September 16 and was headed toward Earth.
It is expected to arrive on Tuesday, September 19, although it is not clear when exactly. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Space Weather Prediction Center 3 day forecast predicts G1 (Minor) to G2 (Moderate) geomagnetic storms peaking between 06:00 and 09:00 UTC (02:00-05:00 EDT, 01:00-04:00 CDT, 00:00-03:00 MDT and 11:00 p.m.-02:00 a.m. PDT) on September 19. The NASA model predicts later on September 19, according to SpaceWeather.com on Sunday, which will mean daytime in North America.
Although the timing is uncertain—it never is—a G2 storm can often mean impressive displays of the aurora borealis. “During a similar G2 storm on September 12, auroras were photographed in several US states as far south as Colorado and Missouri,” it reports SpaceWeather.com.
A CME is a cloud of magnetic fields and charged particles from the Sun that flows into space at speeds of up to 3,000 kilometers per second. It can take several days to arrive if it is aimed at Earth, where it causes a geomagnetic storm that often leads to aurora displays.
Experts sound the alarm
“Eruption of a huge filament right in the Earth’s strike zone!” he tweeted Dr. Ryan Frenchsolar physicist at the National Solar Observatory (NSO) in Boulder, Colorado, and author of the book The Sun: A Beginner’s Guide to Our Local Star. “This filament will probably reach Earth within a few days and hopefully create a great aurora show!”
“Direct hit! A serpent-like filament starts a solar storm and is directed towards Earth:” he tweeted solar physicist Dr. Tamitha Skov. “Aurora possibly to mid-latitudes.”
Geomagnetic activity is known to increase around the equinoxes in late September and late March, when the position of the Earth’s axis relative to the Sun puts it on the side of the solar wind.
How to see the Northern Lights
It may sound obvious, but seeing the Northern Lights is usually better the further north you are. “Being in the north always gives you an advantage, even if they explode and are visible much further south – you’ll just see them in the southern sky rather than the northern sky,” said Tom Kerss, astronomer and author of the book Northern Lights: The Definitive Guide to the Northern Lightsin the interview.
However, what usually prevents the auroras from being visible, even when they are present, is light pollution. “When the auroras are low on the northern horizon, they’re much harder to see,” Kerss said. “It’s harder to determine what is the afterglow of the sunset versus the light pollution of the local city versus the faint glow of the aurora borealis.”
The aurora has a kind of autoluminous character that is obvious once you know what to look for, but difficult for beginners to spot easily. So it’s best to keep your expectations low. For best results, head somewhere with as little light pollution as possible (Map of light pollution is useful).
“Sightings in northern US states are becoming more common, but the really dramatic sightings — the ones people dream of seeing — are still from Arctic locations,” Kerss said. So the best plan is to head for the Arctic Circle in Alaska, northern Canada or northern Scandinavia (Norway, Finland, Sweden and Iceland) where more frequent and brighter displays are more likely.
Wherever you attempt to view the Northern Lights, you need five things – clear skies, dark skies, warm clothing, low expectations and bags of patience. A manual camera on a tripod capable of taking long exposures also helps.
I wish you clear skies and wide eyes.