No Promises, but Aurora Borealis May Be Heading Our Way

Unpredictable sky show may appear in skies over northern United States on Thursday
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 10, 2020 6:18 AM CST
US Could Get a Glimpse of Northern Lights Tonight, Maybe
A past showing of the northern lights over a Canadian forest.   (Getty Images/La_Corivo)

The sun had a somewhat volatile week, and as a result, parts of the northern United States may get a rare sky show Thursday night. Per USA Today and AccuWeather, a solar flare burst out of the sun on Monday, producing a coronal mass ejection (CME)—a ball of plasma and magnetic field. The interaction of that CME with the Earth's atmosphere produces a geomagnetic storm and the multicolored phenomenon we in the Northern Hemisphere know as the northern lights, or aurora borealis. "The potential for strong storm levels exists and a G3 (Strong) Watch is in effect" for Thursday, the Space Weather Prediction Center notes, adding that "CME-level disturbances" may continue into Friday. Although the light show is usually only seen near the polar regions, this time it looks like it will extend further south, reaching such cities as Boston, Chicago, and Seattle.

It could even stretch as far south as northern Pennsylvania, though people would have the best chance to see the swirling lights if they're in more remote areas, away from light pollution. Cloud cover could also interfere with a sighting. The SWPC adds it's not clear on the timing and intensity of the storm, while notes the CME has already hit the Earth's magnetic field, and while there's "still a chance of storms in the hours ahead ... this is not shaping up to be a major space weather event." This all goes to prove that, like much else in life, the northern lights are unpredictable. It's "harder than forecasting the weather," AccuWeather meteorologist David Samuhel says. "Many times events that are hyped like this one don't pan out." (If that turns out to be the case, close your eyes and listen to this instead.)

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