Cover Photo: Flickr/L.E Daniel Larsson
Living in the US, we just about never get to see the famed Northern Lights, also known as aurora borealis – and it’s totally unfair! Luckily, people who are in New York and Chicago this weekend might have a rare chance to spot this incredible natural phenomenon.
The reason for this super rare sighting? An unusual geomagnetic storm that meteorologists are predicting.
On Saturday, they expect a massive cloud of charged particles from the layer of gas that surrounds the sun (known as the solar corona) to arrive.
Contributing to the potential for the unusual sighting, the NOAA explained how an increased brightness of the sun, due to a small solar flare, struck on Wednesday. The solar flare was intense enough to disrupt radio operations in Africa and Europe.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), this may increase the intensity of the aurora borealis, so much so that cities as far south as New York and Chicago may have a chance to see it.
In a tweet sent out by meteorologist Joe Charlevoix, the Northern Lights will quite possibly be visible on Saturday night. “This is not a guarantee but conditions are favorable,” he wrote.
Don’t live in New York or Illinois? You might still have a shot at seeing the spectacular light show. The NOAA’s graph shows that portions of Michigan and Pennsylvania may also get to see the light show.
If you live in the UK, you might get lucky too. Weather woman Laura Tobin reported on Good Morning Britain that areas in northern Britain may get a chance to see the Northern Lights.
Every year, hundreds of thousands of people travel to northern regions like Alaska, Norway, and Iceland to see the Northern Lights.
This isn’t the first time the Northern Lights have been visible outside of their normal stomping grounds. They have been spotted as far south as New Orleans.
Typically, the best spots to view the lights in North America include the northwestern region of Canada, the Yukon, Nunavut, Northwest Territories and Alaska.
What are Northern Lights?
Aurora borealis creates an incredible display of dancing lights with vibrant shades of green, yellow, blue, red, and violet.
No two displays appear the same, sometimes they appear in scattered patches and other times they look like rippling curtains or shooting rays, casting the sky with an eerily beautiful glow.
Typically, these epic displays are caused when gaseous particles floating around Earth’s atmosphere collide with charged particles released by the sun’s atmosphere.
Different colors are produced based upon the type of gas particles that collide. The most common color is a pale yellow with a tint of green, which is produced by oxygen molecules that are around 60 miles above our planet.
Ever seen a red aurora? These are rare and a result of high-altitude oxygen from 200 miles up. Nitrogen is responsible for auroras that are blue or a purplish-red.
In the south, the light show is called ‘Aurora australis,’ and in the north it is referred to as ‘Aurora borealis.’ Even though they have different names, scientists have found the two light shows occur simultaneously as a mirror image of one another.
In 1880, researchers began to suspect the connection between auroras and sunspot activity. In the 1950’s we put together another piece of the puzzle – electrons and protons from the sun blow down towards earth on “solar winds.”
The reason it’s more common to see auroras near the north and south pole is because the earth’s magnetic field is weaker at these locations.
As a result, particles that would otherwise fail to make it through are able to enter earth’s atmosphere where they collide with gas particles and create a spectacle of lights.
In addition, researchers have found that light shows peak in intensity about once every eleven years. The last peak period was 2013, which means the next one is due in 2024.
This world is a truly miraculous place. Fingers crossed that some of us living in the US will get to see one of its most beautiful displays of art this weekend!