Northern Lights in Your Neighborhood?

Tonight, January 24th could potentially stage a quite rare celestial show for the United States. The solar storm and resulting coronal mass ejection (CME) on the sun is hurtling hundreds of millions of subatomic particles towards the Earth at breakneck speed. But fear not! The Earth is well suited to deal with radiation blasts such as these thanks to our spinning molten iron core which generates a magnetic field around the planet. The particles from the sun “excite” the magnetic field and glow causing the awe-inspiring show we call the Aurora Borealis, or northern lights. This is a particularly strong CME, the strongest one since 2005 to be exact, on a scale of 1-10, this one’s a 9. The sun’s electromagnetic storms rage in approximately 11 year cycles and the current cycle is due to peak over the next 12-18 months. So this kind of activity will increase in frequency (but only a little in intensity). The magnitude of this storm will produce very favorable viewing conditions for those living in the northern hemisphere, particularly those in Canada, northern Europe, the UK, and the northern half of the U.S. potentially as far south as the Carolinas!

If you’re curious about whether or not you can expect to see some aurora action there is a helpful map from the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) that shows the predictable range of the auroras. But don’t get all down on life if you live south of the line, mother nature can misbehave and do things even the best scientists can’t predict so take heart! If it’s a clear night just head outside and take a look for maybe an hour or so and if there’s no aurora, you’ll still get some great views of Jupiter, Mars, and Venus! If you live on the east coast the moon is traversing the sky with the sun today so it will be nice and dark without the moon so all signs are pointing to a great viewing night! Best of luck to everyone!

Thanks to Bad Astronomy for providing the link to the NOAA page!

Posted on January 24, 2012, in Night Sky and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Hi Craig. Yeah I should have been looking at the forecast all evening. Didn’t see anything 😦 Stargazing conditions were great regardless!

  2. SWPC (http://swpc.noaa.gov) seems to think the magnetic storm was over before sunset in the continental U.S.. Won’t stop me from looking, but I don’t think we’ll see much.

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