Many in US May Glimpse Northern Lights This Weekend

Thanks to solar flare, aurora borealis may be visible in northern parts of the country, if all factors align
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 30, 2021 7:30 AM CDT
'Great Show' in the Night Sky Possible This Weekend in US
In this April 9, 2015, photo, an aurora borealis illuminates the night sky over Lake McDonald in Montana's Glacier National Park.   (AP/Daily Inter Lake, Brenda Ahearn)

The bad news: A solar flare is about to slam into the Earth. The good news: Parts of the US may get quite the sky show because of it. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Space Weather Prediction Center has issued a level G3 (i.e., strong) "geomagnetic storm watch" for Saturday and Sunday due to that flare and its accompanying coronal mass ejection—which means that sky watchers in the northern parts of Europe and the United States may catch a glimpse of the aurora borealis, reports NBC News.

The outlet notes that, if the weather is good and other factors align, the northern lights may be visible in Washington state, throughout the Upper Midwest, and in the far reaches of the Northeast. Per the NOAA, visibility for the colorful event—caused by the sun's charged particles interacting with our planet's atmosphere and magnetic field—could even stretch down as low as Oregon, Iowa, and Pennsylvania.

"This could be a great show for people in the mid-to-upper US latitudes for aurora," C. Alex Young of NASA tells Space.com. The SWPC notes that "impacts to our technology from a G3 storm are generally nominal," though the center says it has notified airlines, power grid and satellite operators, and others about possible effects, per USA Today. "Geomagnetic storms on Earth can affect electrical grids, GPS navigation systems, and radio and satellite telecommunications," the center says.

The powerful flare erupted from the sun around lunchtime on Thursday, traveling about 604 miles per second. This burst of northern lights gracing the mainland US comes just three weeks after another, caused by a G2 (moderate) geomagnetic storm. It's not common to be able to see the aurora at such low latitudes, notes Space.com, and your chances depend not only on your location and the weather, but also on the light pollution in your neck of the woods. Young also warns to keep expectations reasonable: Even if you do spy a bit of the aurora, it's not going to be as intense as those typically seen in the far north. (Read more aurora borealis stories.)

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