Witnessing the Northern Lights, a colorful and spectacular event caused by a solar flare, is in everyone’s bucket list. It’s best watched in Iceland and Finland, but of course, international travel is currently a no-no.
But American skywatchers may just see this dancing of colors in the sky this week right outside their very own homes.
The Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) has issued G1, G2, and G3 geomagnetic storm watches for the nights of Wednesday, December 9, and Thursday, December 10. The brief period of a G3 storm alert on the night of December 9 could mean that the northern lights will be seen relatively far south in the continental United States.
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
The incredible lights show may be spotted from the Pacific Northwest to England, and as far south as northern Illinois and Pennsylvania.
Because of light pollution, it may be impossible to view the lights from major cities such as New York and Seattle.
Those predictions, however, are forecasts and not guarantees. “While SWPC forecasters are fairly confident in CME arrival at Earth, timing and geomagnetic storm intensity are less certain,” the center wrote in its alert.
SWPC said that the coronal mass ejection will begin interacting with the Earth’s magnetic field late Wednesday. The electromagnetic storm is expected to grow to major status Thursday, extending the area where the Northern Lights are visible.
Also called Aurora borealis, the Northern Lights are formed when the particles flowing from the sun get caught up in the Earth’s magnetic field. The particles then trigger reactions forcing photons of light activated by oxygen and nitrogen molecules in the upper atmosphere.
The most common aurora colors are a luminescent green, but it can also come in a range of colors from red to pink or blue to purple.
So, find a place under a very dark, clear sky to get the best view of the Northern Lights. The farther you are from the city lights and pollution, the better your chances.
According to the Thrillist website, the key to crossing the Northern Lights off your bucket list is persistence and patience. Once you’re in your spot, you’re going to need to be really patient and keep your eyes on the sky. Just because it’s not there one moment doesn’t mean that it won’t be soon. Likewise, if you see it, that doesn’t mean it’s going to be around all night. It’s a bit like whale watching in that way.
But then again, don’t set your expectations too high. Stargazing is definitely worth your time, too.
In case you fail to see the Northern Lights, be reminded that it’s is not the only stunning celestial event to take place this month.
Mark your calendars for December 21, when Jupiter and Saturn make their closest visible approach since the Middle Ages. This great alignment of planets, known as a conjunction, coincides with the winter solstice and won’t be seen again until 2080.
For those who won’t be able to see the Northern Lights for now, here’s a video of the awe-inspiring Norway Northern Lights from National Geographic.