ORLANDO, Fla. – Seeing the Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis is on the bucket list of many people. Thursday night, some Americans that don’t reside in Alaska may have the opportunity after a strong solar flare ejected from the sun a few days ago.
NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center issued a geomagnetic storm watch for the next several nights. Wednesday night, the potential for a strong geomagnetic storm, G3 on the scale, existed. By Thursday night, the storm subsides a bit to a G2 or moderate storm.
The northern lights are a result of these storms.
Geomagnetic Storm Watches in effect Dec 9 - 11, 2020, due to anticipated CME effects. The CME occurred on December 7th, and was associated with a C7 flare from Region 2790. For the full story visit https://t.co/mzq8JTer8q @NWS pic.twitter.com/EKOKtiyz3e— NOAA Space Weather (@NWSSWPC) December 8, 2020
A geomagnetic storm starts with the sun and its electrically charged particles called ions. These ions constantly stream out from the surface of the sun into space. This solar wind as its known then approaches Earth and interacts with our magnetic field.
Geomagnetic storms are categorized from 1 through 5 with 1 being minor and 5 being extreme. Thursday night’s falls in the moderate category. A geomagnetic storm is not like a storm on Earth and most won’t even know there is anything going on.
If it wasn’t for this magnetic field, Earth would be in big trouble! Instead, most of the solar wind is deflected safely away and continues on its journey through space.
Some of the particles that don’t get deflected into space are guided toward the north and south pole. Those particles then interact with gases in our atmosphere causing those gases to move into a higher-energy state, producing vibrant displays of light, or the Auroras.
Typically the northern lights hang out closer to the poles, way up north in Canada, Alaska and northern Europe, but during a strong event like this one, they can be seen further south.
Oxygen produces green and red color when it goes from its excited state to a more calm state while nitrogen glows purple and blue.
A solar flare or coronal mass ejection, CME, provides a sudden burst of energy into the solar wind, creating stronger geomagnetic storms once it arrives to Earth, raising the potential for the aurora. In extreme examples, radio and communication satellites could be disabled.
The highest chance to see the Northern Lights in the lower 48 was Wednesday night, but Thursday night there will also be a chance, albeit further north.
The further south you are, the lower in the sky the potential glow will be. Getting away from city lights is a must!
The northern lights have been seen in Florida a few times, but it’s extremely rare and takes a large disruption of Earth’s magnetic field from an intense geomagnetic storm.
These also occur in the southern hemisphere and are known as the southern lights our Aurora Australis