The sun has been letting off some high energy blasts recently, and it could mean quite a display of the Aurora Borealis and Aurora Australis (also known as the Northern Lights and Southern Lights) for millions more people than usual.
The Space Weather Prediction Center of the National Weather Service says the Northern Lights could be visible Wednesday and Thursday night as far south as New England, parts of Wyoming and Chicago.
A G2 or moderate geomagnetic storm watch has been issued, in addition to a previously issued G1 or minor storm watch that is also in effect. The watches are tied to a series of coronal mass ejections (CMEs) from the sun over the past week that hurled magnetically-charged matter in our direction. When the plasma collides with Earth’s magnetic field, it produces the aurorae and can also screw with some radio communications, hence the storm watches.
The CMEs seem to be associated with a group of sunspots acting up on what is otherwise supposed to be a period of calm for our star. The blasts of solar solar energy have already produced what Accuweather meteorologist Dave Samuhel described as “surprisingly strong” auroral light shows this week.
Between clouds and bright moon, the odds were low, but #Auroraborealis did peak through for a brief show. #wawx @NWSSeattle @ScottSKOMO @ShannonODKOMO @CraigHerreraTV @JordanWtv @NickAllardKIRO7 @MorganKIRO7 @Walter_Kelley @timdurkan @TamithaSkov @WeatherNation pic.twitter.com/TKHRfyNKKs
— Skunkbayweather (@Skunkbayweather) May 14, 2019
The unexpectedly powerful storm rated as a G3, one of the highest in years, in part due to a “crack” that opened up in Earth’s magnetic shield, according to spaceweather.com. The crack may have been created by the repeated arrival of CMEs. Perhaps the continued solar fury will lead to a replication of the circumstances over the next few nights, which might not be welcomed by radio operators but could lead to some very interesting night sky watching.
The barrage colliding with the magnetosphere this week could also produce other interesting phenomenon, like the enigmatic STEVE (for strong thermal emission velocity enhancement).
Bottom line: if you’re up late, it’s worth heading outside.