Those who happen to be living in or visiting the northern states of the United States this week could be in for, if they can brave the chilly winter weather and head outside at night, an opportunity to see the famous northern lights at a much lower latitude than is normal for the aerial phenomenon.
In fact, solar activity means that residents of the northern parts of Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin, North Dakota, and Idaho will likely get to see the aurora borealis on the nights of Monday and Tuesday, and those in other northern states like Maine and South Dakota could get to see the northern lights as well if it extends to its predicted southernmost limit.
Such is what the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said, announcing that a stronger than usual solar storm would lead to increased electromagnetic activity, which would in turn make the northern lights visible a good bit more to the south than is normal.
That followed those in even more southern states like Nebraska and Iowa getting to see the northern lights on Monday morning, as Fox 11 reported, noting, “NOAA’s SWPC issued a Geomagnetic Storm Alert on Sunday warning of the potential interference with communication systems and spacecraft operations. The public does not need to be concerned by the geomagnetic storm, but it meant those as far south as Nebraska, Iowa and northern Illinois had the chance to see aurora lights early Monday morning.“
Unfortunately, the increased opportunity to see the phenomenon came, over the weekend, alongside terrible winter weather, as the NOAA also announced, saying, “Two more fronts will move through the Pacific Northwest tonight through Monday with periods of heavy to excessive rain and gusty to high coastal winds which could lead to flooding and wind damage. A Flash Flood Watch is in effect this evening through Saturday afternoon across the Smith River Complex burn scar where flash flooding or debris flows are possible.”
The National Weather Service also noted that the increased solar activity brings with it major impacts in space, saying, “Even minor space weather events can have major impacts. After a successful launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida in early February 2022, minor geomagnetic storming caused 38 of 49 SpaceX Starlink satellites to fail to reach their final orbit, instead burning up during unplanned reentry into Earth’s atmosphere. While SWPC accurately predicted the space weather storm, an analysis by NOAA, CIRES and Starlink scientists published in the AGU journal Space Weather, found that improved observations and forecasts for minor space weather events would help avoid future satellite losses.”
It also noted, “Solar magnetic variability – here measured by sunspot number – regulates the frequency and severity of space weather events and hazards, which can interfere with the electrical grid, degrade GPS signals, increase orbital drag on satellites, and pose radiation hazards to airline crews and astronauts. Stronger solar cycles produce more solar storms with greater intensity and therefore pose a larger hazard for these critical technologies and services.”
The University of Alaska Fairbanks aurora forecast shows that another spike in Northern Lights activity is possible on Thursday night, giving those who missed the unique opportunity earlier in the week another opportunity to do so.
Featured image credit: By AstroAnthony – Own work, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=84294723
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