Aurora

If You’ve Never Seen An Aurora Before, This Might Be Your Chance!

Tonight and the rest of the weekend could be your best chance ever to see the aurora.

The Sun has been extremely active lately as it heads towards solar maximum. A giant Earth-facing sunspot group named AR3664 has been visible, and according to Spaceweather.com, the first of an unbelievable SIX coronal mass ejections were hurled our way from that active region, and is now hitting our planet’s magnetic field.

Solar experts predict that people in the US as far south as Alabama and Northern California could be treated to seeing the northern lights during this weekend. For those of you in northern Europe, you could also be in for some aurora excitement. Check the Space Weather Prediction Center’s 30-minute Aurora Forecast for the latest information.

If the weather conditions are right in your area, you might hit the aurora jackpot.  See a map with predictions, below.

A map from the Space Weather Prediction Center shows the aurora forecast for the U.S. on May 11, 2024. Credit: Space Weather Prediction Center

“If you happen to be in an area where it’s dark and cloud free and relatively unpolluted by light, you may get to see a fairly impressive aurora display, and that’s really the gift from space weather, is the aurora,” said Rob Steenburgh, from NOAA’s (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC), during a briefing on Friday.

A map from the Space Weather Prediction Center shows the aurora forecast for the northern hemisphere on May 10, 2024. Credit: Space Weather Prediction Center

According to SWPC, the impact from the geomagnetic storm reached Earth-based magnetometers on May 10th at 1645 UT. More CMEs are following close behind and their arrival could extend the storm into the weekend.

While these solar storms could provide stunning views of auroras, there is also the potential for disruption to communications systems, power grids and satellite operations.

As we reported earlier this week, the Sun released three X-class solar flares — the strongest class of flares — in short succession. Solar flares are explosions on the Sun that release powerful bursts of energy and radiation coming from the magnetic energy associated with the sunspots. The more sunspots, the greater potential for flares.

NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory captured these images of the solar flares — as seen in the bright flashes in the upper right — on May 5 and May 6, 2024. The image shows a subset of extreme ultraviolet light that highlights the extremely hot material in flares and which is colorized in teal. Credit: NASA/SDO

The sunspot group AR3664 is so large, it is visible to the naked eye — but you MUST be wearing special eye-wear (got any of your eclipse glasses left from April 8?) or use special solar filters for telescopes or binoculars. AR3664 is enormous, about 10 times the size of Earth.

How to see the Northern Lights

The aurora is an incredible sight. Your best shot to see it is to be in a dark area.

“Get away from city lights into a dark, rural surrounding and look north,” said the National Weather Service in St. Louis, Missouri on X (Twitter). “Aside from some clouds associated with a passing front, much of the time looks mostly clear.”

Check the weather forecast in your region for cloud cover. But if you don’t have any luck tonight, check again Saturday or Sunday night. With multiple CMEs, the storm was expected to last through the weekend.

Good luck!

Nancy Atkinson

Nancy has been with Universe Today since 2004, and has published over 6,000 articles on space exploration, astronomy, science and technology. She is the author of two books: "Eight Years to the Moon: the History of the Apollo Missions," (2019) which shares the stories of 60 engineers and scientists who worked behind the scenes to make landing on the Moon possible; and "Incredible Stories from Space: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Missions Changing Our View of the Cosmos" (2016) tells the stories of those who work on NASA's robotic missions to explore the Solar System and beyond. Follow Nancy on Twitter at https://twitter.com/Nancy_A and and Instagram at and https://www.instagram.com/nancyatkinson_ut/

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