The Sun has been very active in the past few days, which can have major implications for us here on Earth. Recently, the Sun has blasted a coronal mass ejection (CME) into space, which is set to hit Earth tomorrow, April 11. In addition, Earth had already entered a stream of particles blasted into space by the highly-chargedsolar wind. This combined with the CME means increased chances for aurora
(Northern/Southern Lights) in the coming days.
For reasons scientists still no not fully understand, spring and fall tend to have more displays of aurora than the other two seasons. Current theory holds that the orientation of Earth toward the Sun at these points in time is what makes aurora more likely at this time of year. So, with spring having just arrived, aurora season can be considered to be in full swing.
The aurora are caused when the energized particles from the Sun come into contact with Earth’s upper atmosphere. When the charged energy hits Earth, the particles react and the atoms/molecules in Earth’s upper atmosphere give off the photons we see as the Northern Lights. Why are the lights different colors? Each individual atom gives off a different glow when excited by the incoming solar wind. For us living in the Northern hemisphere, auroras are common in high latitudes such as Alaska, Canada, the Scandinavian countries, and other such high-latitude places. For those at mid latitudes, such as 45 degrees North, auroras don’t find their way into these skies very often, which is predicted to be the case with this blast of the solar wind.
However, this is not always the case.
Right now, the Sun is headed for solar maximum, the peak in activity in its 11-year cycle. Because blasts of energy from the Sun are sure to become more powerful and frequent in the future, the chances of aurora working their way down to the continental United States is sure to increase in the coming years. In May, 2005, I saw a stunning display of auroras that ranged from blue-violet overhead to green curtains near the horizon from the Cleveland, Ohio area..
So how about the coming days?
Unfortunately, predicting aurora, and more specifically, where exactly they will appear, is very much a guessing game. The prediction for the next 48 hours: a 40% change of geomagnetic activity. However, to help one’s odds of seeing the Northern Lights, sign up for Spaceweather’sphone alert system, which can be set to call you when aurora are predicted to be visible over your location. As the last part of the puzzle, find a clear sky clock and see if it will be clear near you.
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