Some of us Earthlings may see dancing, green lights in the sky on Saturday night.
The sun blasted out a flare of energized particles into space on March 20, and the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Space Prediction Center forecasts that a strip of the northern U.S. may experience a visible effect of this event: an aurora, or eerie dancing greenish light, created when the sun’s particles interact with Earth’s atmosphere.
Such an atmospheric event is stoked by a disturbance called a geomagnetic storm, where energized solar particles propel changes in Earth’s magnetosphere — a sprawling zone of space around Earth where the planet’s magnetic field changes and evolves in reaction to the sun.
It often takes a few days for powerful flares from the sun, known as Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs), to hit Earth and stoke a space storm.
The Space Prediction Center predicts that a curved strip of land in the U.S. between Washington and Maine is the “most likely” extent of the celestial lights, though areas as far south as Colorado may be treated to the aurora.
This furthest extent is forecast to fall between the green and yellow lines seen in the above NOAA graphic, or the tweet below. This means portions of Washington, Idaho. Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine.
A G2 (Moderate) geomagnetic storm watch is in effect for the 23 March, 2019 UTC-day due to anticipated CME arrival. The CME was associated with a C4 flare on 20 March, 2019 at 1118 UTC (0718 EDT). Continue to monitor our SWPC webpage for additional updates. pic.twitter.com/tjZIGFiLSz
— NOAA Space Weather (@NWSSWPC) March 20, 2019
While the Lower 48 may glimpse some green light, the event is expected to be quite vivid over a majority of Alaska, where the epicenter of the aurora will be on impressive display in a ring atop the planet.
To see the lights, it’s best to view in the darkest night skies possible, away from light pollution, and if possible, before the moon rises.
Happy celestial viewing.