Prepare for a solar storm-induced spectacle in the skies above.
Seeing the Aurora Borealis, otherwise known as the northern lights, is nearly always somewhere near the top of most people’s bucket lists. The incredible natural phenomenon creates a spectacle that people wait years, even lifetimes, to behold. The only caveat being that to see them clearly you need to venture towards countries closest to the Arctic and Antarctic circles that are, though stunning, extremely cold and often remote.
So what if we told you that the dazzling light spectacle might soon be visible in the skies of the Midwest? That trip to Iceland, Northern Canada, or Norway might not be as necessary anymore as, according to the National Weather Service, solar activity this week is expected to produce displays of the northern lights phenomenon as far south as Iowa and potentially the northern parts of Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio.
This solar activity that increases the chance of viewing the Aurora Borealis is known as a geomagnetic storm. This is a series of explosions or ejections on the sun called Coronal Mass Ejections, or CMEs, during which charged particles burst out of the sun’s surface. As these large clouds of solar plasma interact with the Earth’s magnetic field upon hitting our atmosphere they start to overwhelm the planet’s magnetic field and cause a Northern Lights-type spectacle.
This particular geomagnetic storm is being dubbed a “cannibal” solar storm as two coronal mass ejections that have happened in quick succession could cannibalize each other as they head towards Earth. This means that when a more recent blast travels faster than the first it consumes it and merges into one more powerful blast which in turn can cause a surge in Aurora Borealis activity.
Geomagnetic storms are rated on a scale from G1 to G5 with the higher the number indicating the strength, this weeks geomagnetic storm is currently being rated as a G3-level storm.
Though this could create stunning spectacles in the skies above, clear viewing of the phenomenon is far from guaranteed. National Weather Service has also warned that the strength of the solar storm could cause disruption to satellites and other systems.
The best chances of seeing anything are after 10 pm tonight and tomorrow in a dark area north of Chicago where there is low light pollution. Check out this light pollution map to find a dark sky void of city lights near to you.
If the night sky fails to impress you can always check into a Northern Lights Live Stream and get your fill from the comfort of your own home.