Parts of New England could see the Northern Lights this week if clouds cooperate

Aurora Borealis? Localized entirely within your Commonwealth?

northern lights
The Northern Lights. –Mount Washington Observatory

The Northern Lights — the dazzling nighttime phenomenon typically bound to the Arctic — may reach as far south as Massachusetts this week.

Unfortunately, it looks like wintry cloud cover will likely obscure any potential spectacle for earthbound stargazers in New England.

Some background: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued a geomagnetic storm watch from Wednesday to Friday because of a major coronal mass ejection on Monday. In other words, the Sun had a large burst of plasma, which will cause disturbances in Earth’s magnetic field, which in turn expands the range of visibility for the Northern Lights away from the poles.

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The storm hits Earth Wednesday night as a minor “G1” storm before growing to a strong “G3” rating Thursday. At that strength, aurora can potentially appear over much of the northern United States, including all of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, and a sliver of Massachusetts — think Berkshire, Franklin, and Worcester counties along the northern border.

In ideal conditions, those who want to witness the Northern Lights need to find a spot away from light-polluted towns and cities. But it doesn’t look like it will matter much Wednesday night, as clouds are covering most of the region overnight and won’t clear up until morning. It looks like the Midwesterners will have one on us New Englanders when it comes to lucky clear skies.

The region may have slightly clearer skies Thursday night, however. If you’re desperate to catch a glimpse and can’t FaceTime someone in South Dakota, keep an eye on cloud cover forecasts and NOAA’s handy live prediction on the size and strength of the aurora. Keep in mind that the aurora forecast only shows activity directly overhead, but it’s visible low on the northern horizon from hundreds of miles away.

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