The Aurora Borealis may light up the skies as far south as Colorado on Thursday night and Friday morning. Although there is no certainty the event will actually occur, the strong solar flare that happened earlier this week may cause the unusual event to be visible in the lower 48.
“We’re hoping,” said Joe Kunches with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Space Weather Prediction Center in Boulder, Colorado “The sun has done its part, it produced a fast, energetic eruption about the middle of the day Tuesday.”
Jeffrey Newmark, a solar physicist at NASA said the flare blew off a piece of the solar atmosphere that is moving towards Earth. A solar storm happens when “the (sun’s) magnetic field gets twisted up in a high-energy state and it relaxes, and that releases a tremendous amount of energy.”
“First there is a solar flare, a release of light and high-energy particles. The light reaches the Earth in eight minutes, the high-energy particles do about an hour later.”
The Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights are collisions between electrically charged particles from the sun that enter the earth’s atmosphere. The spectacular lights are seen above the North and South Poles. They are called Aurora Borealis in the north and Aurora Australis in the south. The Aurora Borealis are usually green in color, but can sometimes turn blue and red making for an unforgettable display.
A solar storm that contains billions of tons of energetic hydrogen and helium ions, as well as protons and electrons ejected from the sun’s surface, will occur concurrently with the appearance of the Northern Lights. The Advanced Composition Explorer satellite located about 1 million miles up in space detects solar storms and provides about half an hour warning before they get to Earth.
Predictions expect the lights will be pushed south to the Rocky Mountains, and maybe even farther, according to Joe Kunches, a forecaster with the federal Space Weather Prediction Center. The height of the display in Colorado is probably going to take place about midnight Thursday, and into the start of Friday, Kunches said. “The weather should be clear, and the moon is not full, so the viewing should be good.”
The solar storms are a common event of the sun’s activity, but compared to others, this one was moderate. “In July of 2012, there was a much larger event, but it was on the back side of the sun facing away from us, so we barely felt it,” Kunches explained.
Don’t forget to look towards the sky in the next couple of days, and you may catch the breathtaking spectacle created by the Aurora Borealis.