Tens of millions of Americans will have views of the Northern Lights tonight as solar storms push the spectacular display further south.

More than 20 states from the East Coast to the Pacific Northwest will be able to catch their best glimpses of the phenomenon, known as the aurora borealis, between 10PM and 2AM local time.

The lights should start to be visible as far down as Iowa and Ohio after nightfall — and could carry on into Friday evening, although the aurora won’t be as visible then, according to space weather forecasters.

Alaska, Montana, North Dakota and Minnesota will have the best seats in the US.

But sky-watchers in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, South Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Maine will also get a chance see these lights shimmer.

The aurora will look, to the naked eye, like a green or red glow in the northern sky.

The Northern Lights is most commonly seen over places closer to the Arctic Circle such as Scandinavia and Alaska, so any sighting over the continental US is a treat for skygazers

The Northern Lights is most commonly seen over places closer to the Arctic Circle such as Scandinavia and Alaska, so any sighting over the continental US is a treat for skygazers

The Northern Lights is most commonly seen over places closer to the Arctic Circle such as Scandinavia and Alaska, so any sighting over the continental US is a treat for skygazers

The aurora forecast for tonight, November 30, 2023, will spread deeper into the continental United States that usual, according to NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center, thanks to a wave of incoming solar storms

The aurora forecast for tonight, November 30, 2023, will spread deeper into the continental United States that usual, according to NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center, thanks to a wave of incoming solar storms

Tomorrow night's forecast is slightly less strong with less of the Northern Lights visible due south

Tomorrow night's forecast is slightly less strong with less of the Northern Lights visible due south

The aurora forecast for tonight, November 30, 2023, will spread deeper into the continental United States than usual, according to NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center, thanks to a wave of incoming solar storms. Tomorrow night’s forecast sees less Northern Lights due south

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA’s) Space Weather Prediction Center, no less than four ‘coronal mass ejections’ (CME) have erupted from the sun’s surface and are now headed toward Earth. 

Often a byproduct of solar flares and other turbulent conditions on our sun, CME events launch a potent magnetic field and a mass of plasma passed the sun’s outer ‘coronal’ edge and out into the wider solar system.  

For tonight and tomorrow, NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center upgraded their predictions to a G3 Watch (‘Strong’ on a scale of 1 to 5), as they’ve observed these CMEs begin merge in space.

‘With 3 CMEs already inbound, the addition of a 4th, full halo CME has prompted SWPC forecasters to upgrade the G2 Watch on 01 Dec to a G3 Watch,’ NOAA posted to their forecasting site.

‘This faster-moving halo CME is progged [projected] to merge with 2 of the 3 upstream CMEs, all arriving at Earth on 01 Dec,’ the federal agency said. 

NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center upgraded their predictions to a G3 Watch ('Strong' on a scale of 1 to 5), as they've observed these CME 'solar storms' merge in space: 'This faster-moving halo CME [will] merge with 2 of the 3 upstream CMEs, all arriving at Earth on 01 Dec'

NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center upgraded their predictions to a G3 Watch ('Strong' on a scale of 1 to 5), as they've observed these CME 'solar storms' merge in space: 'This faster-moving halo CME [will] merge with 2 of the 3 upstream CMEs, all arriving at Earth on 01 Dec'

NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center upgraded their predictions to a G3 Watch (‘Strong’ on a scale of 1 to 5), as they’ve observed these CME ‘solar storms’ merge in space: ‘This faster-moving halo CME [will] merge with 2 of the 3 upstream CMEs, all arriving at Earth on 01 Dec’ 

Both Northern and Southern Lights (auroras) have mystified humans for centuries due to their wild colors. Above, an aurora glows over Rovaniemi, Finland on February 6, 2020

Both Northern and Southern Lights (auroras) have mystified humans for centuries due to their wild colors. Above, an aurora glows over Rovaniemi, Finland on February 6, 2020

Both Northern and Southern Lights (auroras) have mystified humans for centuries due to their wild colors. Above, an aurora glows over Rovaniemi, Finland on February 6, 2020

The aurora forecast for tonight, November 30, 2023, will spread deeper into the continental United States than usual, according to NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center, thanks to this pile-up of incoming solar storms. 

Tomorrow night’s forecast is slightly less strong, with less of the Northern Lights visible due south as this wave of CMEs cascades farther out in our solar system toward Mars and Jupiter.

US sky-watchers should not lose hope if they miss Thursday night’s rare local aurora borealis, however, as astronomers and NOAA’s space weather forecasters are predicting more CME events like it in next few months.

Since December 2019, the sun has been undergoing an 11-year cycle where the polarity of its magnetic poles completely reverses, and that process is nearing its most turbulent, high-energy phase.

Dubbed, Solar Cycle 25, this 11-period has been expected to be ‘a fairly weak cycle’ according to the National Weather Service

But nevertheless, it will ramp up its intensity continually from now until July 2025, with a forecasted a peak of 115 sunspots, stronger CMEs, and other solar storms like coronal hole high speed streams (CH HSS).

According to the Hill, new forecasts show the storms ‘could come quicker and be stronger than previously thought from January to October next year.’

While that does promise more beautiful nighttime light shows from these northern lights down south, the CMEs could also impact our infrastructure, such as knock-on effects that could disrupt satellites.

According to Royal Museums Greenwich, most of the particles from these solar events are deflected, but some become captured in the Earth’s magnetic field.

They’re accelerated down towards the north and south poles into the atmosphere, which is why an aurora is usually best seen nearer the magnetic poles.

‘These particles then slam into atoms and molecules in the Earth’s atmosphere and essentially heat them up,’ said Royal Observatory astronomer Tom Kerss.

‘We call this physical process “excitation,” but it’s very much like heating a gas and making it glow.’

This results in beautiful displays of light in the sky, which come in all sorts of different colors.

Oxygen gives off green and red light, while nitrogen glows blue and purple.

SOLAR STORMS PRESENT A CLEAR DANGER TO ASTRONAUTS AND CAN DAMAGE SATELLITES

Solar storms, or solar activity, can be divided into four main components that can have impacts on Earth:  

  • Solar flares: A large explosion in the sun’s atmosphere. These flares are made of photons that travel out directly from the flare site. Solar flares impact Earth only when they occur on the side of the sun facing Earth.  
  • Coronal Mass Ejections (CME’s): Large clouds of plasma and magnetic field that erupt from the sun. These clouds can erupt in any direction, and then continue on in that direction, plowing through solar wind. These clouds only cause impacts to Earth when they’re aimed at Earth. 
  • High-speed solar wind streams: These come from coronal holes on the sun, which form anywhere on the sun and usually only when they are closer to the solar equator do the winds impact Earth. 
  • Solar energetic particles: High-energy charged particles thought to be released primarily by shocks formed at the front of coronal mass ejections and solar flares. When a CME cloud plows through solar wind, solar energetic particles can be produced and because they are charged, they follow the magnetic field lines between the Sun and Earth. Only charged particles that follow magnetic field lines that intersect Earth will have an impact. 

While these may seem dangerous, astronauts are not in immediate danger of these phenomena because of the relatively low orbit of manned missions.

However, they do have to be concerned about cumulative exposure during space walks.

This photo shows the sun's coronal holes in an x-ray image. The outer solar atmosphere, the corona, is structured by strong magnetic fields, which when closed can cause the atmosphere to suddenly and violently release bubbles of gas and magnetic fields called coronal mass ejections

This photo shows the sun's coronal holes in an x-ray image. The outer solar atmosphere, the corona, is structured by strong magnetic fields, which when closed can cause the atmosphere to suddenly and violently release bubbles of gas and magnetic fields called coronal mass ejections

This photo shows the sun’s coronal holes in an x-ray image. The outer solar atmosphere, the corona, is structured by strong magnetic fields, which when closed can cause the atmosphere to suddenly and violently release bubbles or tongues of gas and magnetic fields called coronal mass ejections

The damage caused by solar storms 

Solar flares can damage satellites and have an enormous financial cost.

The charged particles can also threaten airlines by disturbing Earth’s magnetic field.

Very large flares can even create currents within electricity grids and knock out energy supplies.

When Coronal Mass Ejections strike Earth they cause geomagnetic storms and enhanced aurora.

They can disrupt radio waves, GPS coordinates and overload electrical systems.

A large influx of energy could flow into high voltage power grids and permanently damage transformers.

This could shut off businesses and homes around the world. 

Source: NASA – Solar Storm and Space Weather 

This post first appeared on Dailymail.co.uk

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