The Sun has been very active in the past year, which has resulted in prominences, sunspots, flares, and Northern Lights. This past October, the Sun unleashed a storm so powerful that it spawned Northern Lights as far South as Texas. Result: unforgettable moments and stunning pictures. Now, the Sun experts at Spaceweather are saying that sky watchers should be alert for aurora again as earth is in the midst of a solar storm, the first wave having arrived yesterday and another set to arrive later today.
Result: increased chances for aurora, also known as the Northern Lights. .
The aurora are caused when the energized particles from the Sun come into contact with Earth’s upper atmosphere. When the charged energy hits Earth, the particles react and the atoms/molecules in Earth’s upper atmosphere give off the photons we see as the Northern Lights. Why are the lights different colors? Each individual atom gives off a different glowwhen excited by the incoming solar wind. For people living in the Northern Hemisphere, auroras are common in high latitudes such as Alaska, Canada, and the Scandinavian countries, places where people should keep an eye on the sky tonight. For those at mid latitudes, such as 45 degrees North, auroras don’t find their way into these skies very often, which will probably be the case with this storm, which is set to hit Earth this evening.
However, it never hurts to look.
Right now, the Sun is headed for solar maximum, the peak in activity in its 11-year cycle. Because blasts of energy from the Sun are sure to become more powerful and frequent in the future, the chances of aurora working their way down to the continental United States is sure to increase in the coming years. In May, 2005, I saw a stunning display of auroras that ranged from blue-violet overhead to green curtains near the horizon from the Cleveland, Ohio area.
So how about the coming days?
Unfortunately, predicting aurora, and more specifically, where exactly they will appear, is very much a guessing game. Right now, high-latitude residents are being advised that there could be a 25% chance of aurora. However, when it came to October’s storm that spawned Lights as far South as Texas, the prediction was the same. To help one’s odds of seeing the Northern Lights, sign up for Spaceweather’s phone alert system, which can be set to call you when aurora are predicted to be visible over your location, wherever that may be. As the last part of the puzzle, find a clear sky clock and see if it will be clear near you.
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