Northern Lights Display Illuminates Weekend Skies

Written by Shannon Brady

Last updated 11/13/2023, 3:25:43 PM

Tonight through Sunday morning, the Northern Lights will be able to be seen by more of the United States than usual. It is predicted that the aurora can be seen in parts of the upper Midwest, northern Great Plains, and the north-eastern states. 

Earlier in the week, NASA released information about the sun’s activity and it has been relatively active. The sun releases large bursts of energy that are known as Coronal Mass Ejections (CME’s) and they sometimes reach earth directly or just graze by it. This weekend, one of these flares is expected to do just that which will even have some effect on things down near the surface. When CME’s reach or pass very near to earth, we experience what is called a geomagnetic storm. This weekend, there is a watch for a moderate, or ranked-G2, geomagnetic storm for parts of the US and poleward. 

These geomagnetic storms are not anything like a severe-weather storm, but when the energy from these solar flares reach earth and interact with our atmosphere, coming in contact with elements like oxygen and nitrogen, it triggers things like the Aurora Borealis and depending on the severity, sometimes disruptions or complete power and radio blackouts, satellite disruptions, and other spacecraft operations. In the case of a G2 storm, the Space Weather Prediction Center says the effect will be “High-latitude power systems may experience voltage alarms, long-duration storms may cause transformer damage” and “HF radio propagation can fade at higher latitudes, and aurora has been seen as low as New York and Idaho (typically 55° geomagnetic lat.).” (SWPC).

The Northern Lights were best visible in the maps below:

For any who might have missed the lights this weekend, there will be more opportunities, most likely from now until April. To get the best chance at seeing the aurora, make sure the sky is dark and clear, away from big-city light pollution. For those in the upper midwest, clear skies are likely, and a crescent moon is in your favor.