Northern lights may be visible this week
Skygazers might get a chance to catch an all-natural lightshow this week. The Space Weather Prediction Center has issued a moderate geomagnetic storm watch for Oct. 24-26. In layman's terms, the colors of the northern lights may be gracing the ni...
Skygazers might get a chance to catch an all-natural lightshow this week.
The Space Weather Prediction Center has issued a moderate geomagnetic storm watch for Oct. 24-26. In layman's terms, the colors of the northern lights may be gracing the night sky.
David Marshall, a space weather forecaster, said the lights seen in the north country are a result of activity on the surface of the sun.
"In this instance, there's a fairly regular, not rare, feature that's going to rotate around," Marshall said. That feature, called a coronal hole, will produce an increased velocity of solar wind-a gust of electrically charged particles such as protons and electrons-some of which will escape the sun to stream towards Earth.
Earth played host to the same same storm level about 27 days ago, Marshall said, which was the last time the coronal hole was brought around to our direction. He wasn't sure if anyone reported seeing the northern lights then, but said it's not uncommon for sightings to be made at this level of geomagnetic storm activity.
When solar wind draws near our planet, it agitates the Earth's magnetic field in a process Marshall described as working similarly to a neon light.
"You've got all those particles colliding with our upper atmosphere and creating this lightshow," he said.
According to the website of the prediction center, which is part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the most likely area of the aurora's extent could include a swath of the country including North Dakota and Minnesota. The majority of South Dakota is in the area most likely to be in the aurora's path.
While space weather may be amenable to producing the northern lights, the conditions closer to home might prevent Earthlings from actually witnessing the effect.
National Weather Service meteorologist Amanda Lee said the next few nights are expected to be "kind of rainy and cloudy."
To maximize the chances of catching a glimpse of the natural lightshow, Lee recommended checking first the space weather prediction to see current geomagnetic storm levels, then taking a look at local forecasts. If your area is under cloud cover, she said, you probably won't see much. Even if the night is clear, Lee added, ground-based light sources may interfere with a view of those in the sky.
"Grand Forks, Fargo and other places with lots of light pollution probably won't see anything," she said, "so try driving out to the outskirts of town where it's dark and you'll have a better chance of seeing things."