This past week, word has been building that we could be in for a display of the Northern Lights tonight. The Aurora Borealis is a local phenomenon when solar particles strike Earth’s magnetic field. This past week has seen plenty of solar activity, and it’s been building.
A local twitter feed, Northern Lights Now, which proports to ‘[Provide] customized Northern Lights Alerts for your area!’ has been tracking the sun’s activity over the past week:
Additionally, our photographer friend Brian Drourr has been keeping an eye on the sun’s conditions:
This morning’s weather forecast from Eye on the Sky has also been promising, with the clouds overhead looking like they’ll be clearing up:
Mainly clear and chilly, then increasing clouds west to east after midnight. Areas of river valley fog. Lows in the 40s, some 30s in the cold spots. Winds light and variable.
Their facebook page also notes the following:
Northern lights remain a possibility tonight.
Two solar storms have sent charged particles (which cause the gases in our upper atmosphere to glow, creating the northern lights) toward the Earth, the first having moved through last night, and a second, stronger one moving through tonight.
This is an image from Saskatchewan, likely enhanced a bit to bring out the color.
There are no certainties here – just a better than usual chance to see them. They are slightly favored near or just after midnight, but might be seen at any time through the night.
Northern Lights Now also goes into some of the detail behind their forecasting:
Wednesday afternoon Active Solar Region 2158 (Beta-Delta-Gamma) produced the first X-Class flare since June 10. The solar region was near the center-line of the Sun and produced a large fast-moving CME that is Earth-directed. As a result, SWPC has issued a G3 (Strong, KP = 7) geomagnetic watch. This, with the long duration flare from earlier this week is a one-two punch providing aurora hunters terrific opportunities to see northern lights between 9/12 and 9/14. Here’s the current solar info graphic from SWPC (Click to see larger image):
Complicated, but Active, Forecast
You can see a G2 (moderate, KP=6) watch posted for 9/12 UTC that starts around 7:30PM EST on 9/11 as the first green bar at the bottom. This is from the long duration M4.57 flare and CME on Monday. The predicted peak of that activity should be between 3:00am – 6:00am EST on Friday morning. As always, there is a +/- of about 6 hours of the arrival of CMEs, so watch the KP values.
On 9/13 there is a G1 watch for the due to potential activity at the beginning of the UTC day as there may be remnant activity from the 9/8 CME. The G3 (Strong, KP=7) watch posted for 9/13 is from the CME from Wednesday’s X-Class flare. That is expected to peak around mid-day UTC – which would be 8:00am EST.
So, keep your eyes out for some additional color in the skies overhead tonight: we could be in for a show.