A geomagnetic storm is forecast to bring some spectacular displays of the northern lights to areas where the phenomenon is not always visible. Find out if you can see them in your town, and how to best see the northern lights.
The aurora borealis, or northern lights, may be making a rare appearance.
Recent explosions on the surface of the sun have sent clouds of charged particles, known as coronal mass ejections, hurtling through the solar system, according to AccuWeather.
“These clouds of particles are predicted to collide with Earth’s magnetic field on Wednesday night into Thursday, sparking dazzling displays of the aurora,” AccuWeather’s Brian Lada said.
The NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center has issued a G3 geomagnetic storm watch for Wednesday night (last night), and a G2 geomagnetic storm watch for Thursday night, which is today. This means that the aurora borealis may be visible in portions of Montana over the next few nights.
What Causes Aurora Borealis
“What causes the Aurora is charge particles coming off of the sun and quite a large amount of them. When they interact with the atmosphere, they can also induce some electrical charges and it can create a nice light show,” said Nickolai Reimer, a Billings-based forecaster with NOAA.
Typically the lights are reversed to the northern and southern poles from the magnetic pull of the Earth. The bigger the geomagnetic storm though, the bigger the show.
“When the solar winds come through, which is just charge particles, coming off the sun. They interact with that magnetic field that the earth just naturally has, and it deflects it up to the poles.
So, normally that’s why people associate Northern Lights with Canada, Alaska and maybe even Scandinavia and Russia as well. It’s just because the magnetic pull deflects it up there and the same thing applies on the other side of the globe on the southern hemisphere where it gets deflected up to Antarctica. And when we have a larger sunspot event like we’re having now, that mass of particles is enough to deflect a little bit further south.
That’s how places like Montana or Wyoming or even places like Chicago and even New York may be able to see some of these northern lights as well,” added Reimer.
How to watch them?
Reimer said the best way to catch the lights is to head north out of town and away from the light pollution of the city. He mentioned that around midnight the storm would be at its strongest and most visible.