The Aurora Borealis, the northern lights, the words conjure a mental picture of some of the earth’s most dazzling natural phenomena. There’s a mystery to the light for many of you because you have likely never seen them.
If you lived further north they might be something you’ve seen annually, but in New England, especially from southern Maine to Cape Cod, the northern lights are seen quite rarely. I have seen them in Waterville, Bridgton, and Portland, Maine, but never in southern New England. There have been occurrences much further south however The display of charged atoms lights up the night sky with an incredible display of color ranging from red, green, blue and white.
The image above is from the University of Alaska and this particular forecast gives us the best chance to see them tonight.
The earth has permanent, but invisible magnetic field surrounding it. Sometimes, the sun ejects masses of energy, known as a coronal mass ejection or CME. These ejections generate currents of charged particles, which then flow along lines of magnetic force into the polar regions of the planet. The upper levels of the atmosphere actually give these particles a boost of energy, then when they collide with oxygen and nitrogen atoms, they produce what we know as the northern lights.
There have been two major CME’s this week, the most recent was Wednesday. These solar storms are ranked and the last one was in the strongest category. Predicting exactly how these CME’s will affect the magnetic field of the Earth is quite an inexact science. Geophysicists know the potential of what can happen, but whether the effects are large or small is a bit of a guessing game.
These CME’s can also impact satellite communication and this is why communications and even the electrical grids can be impacted from a solar storm. Experts aren’t predicting disruption from this event.. Last night, Northern sections of Europe did see the northern lights. Parts of Alaska also got a good show early this morning. The northern sections of the United States, including New England could see the display the night of September 12th into the early morning hours of September 13th. The weather will be clear, so if the lights are on display you will be able to see them. There is a chance the solar flare was strong enough to continue to charge the atmosphere even after tonight so keep checking the reports.
The best place to get a view of the lights is in an area where it’s dark. The best aurora usually take place when the sun is on the other side of the earth or very late at night. Remember, these occurrences are not highly predictable. I’ll do my best at tweeting if there is new information on Twitter @growingwisdom. Remember to look north and lower on the horizon. Good luck and let’s hope we get to view them this time. If not, there will be more solar storms in the future.