Thursday’s solar storm forecast is expected to give skygazers in 17 U.S. states a chance to see the northern lights, a colorful sky display that happens when the solar wind hits the atmosphere.
The northern lights, also known as the aurora borealis, are mostly seen in Alaska, Canada and Scandinavia, but the 11-year solar cycle, which is expected to peak in 2024, can see the lights farther south. Three months ago, light displays were observed in Arizona, marking the third severe geomagnetic storm since the current solar cycle began in 2019.
The Institute of Geophysics at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks is forecasting auroral activity Thursday in Alaska, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, New York, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Indiana. , Maine and Maryland.
Auroral activity is also forecast for Canada, including Vancouver.
Light displays are expected to be visible above in Milwaukee, Minneapolis and Helena, Montana, and low on the horizon in Salem, Oregon. Boise, Idaho; Cheyenne, Wyoming; Annapolis, Maryland; and Indianapolis, according to the company.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Space Weather Prediction Center said people looking to experience the aurora should stay away from city lights and that the best viewing times are between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. local time.
Northern lights occur when a magnetic solar wind collides with Earth’s magnetic field and illuminates atoms in the upper atmosphere. The lights appear suddenly and vary in intensity.
A geomagnetic index called Kp ranks auroral activity on a scale from zero to nine, with zero being very inactive and nine being bright and active. The Geophysical Union predicted a Kp of 6 for Jupiter’s storm.