The Northern Lights forecast indicates that the aurora borealis may appear over the United States this weekend

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SKYWATCHERS BREAK UP: Thanks to increased solar activity, the aurora borealis may reach the skies over much of the United States this weekend, meteorologists said Thursday.

Federal forecasters from NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center During previous solar activity of this magnitude, “aurorae have been seen as low as Alabama and northern California,” he said. Experts say Aurora may be visible on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday nights.

This spectacle will be the result of a series of coronal mass ejections (CMEs) from the Sun, which are expected to reach Earth early this weekend and produce the geomagnetic storms that lead to the aurora. A G4 (severe) geomagnetic storm watch is in effect on Saturday, May 11, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said.

The northern lights are the most innocuous result of solar activity. Forecasters have warned that powerful solar storms — including G4 storms — could also disrupt some radio communications, damage satellites and even knock out power systems.

Storm watch upgraded to G4

“The geomagnetic storm watch was upgraded this weekend from G2 (moderate) to G4 (Severe),” according to what astronomer Tony Phillips wrote SpaceWeather.com. “Why? Because giant sunspot AR3664 keeps spewing a coronal ejection toward Earth. Next.” Solar flare X2.2 today“There are now at least 4 storm clouds headed our way,” Phillips said.

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Colorful aurorae form when particles streaming from the Sun get trapped in the Earth’s magnetic field. The particles interact with atmospheric gas molecules to cause the famous green and red glowing colors of the aurora.

Volatile forecasts

Aurora prediction can be fickle, so use caution before adjusting your weekend plans. Unlike terrestrial weather, scientists who predict space weather — which includes the aurora borealis — must rely on observations of the Sun 93 million miles away to make their predictions.

“There are a lot of uncertainties, which makes it difficult to predict,” Bill Murtagh, program coordinator at the Space Weather Prediction Center, told USA TODAY last year. He acknowledged that although the weather is difficult to predict here on Earth, “we are decades behind the forecasting capabilities of our meteorological colleagues,” referring to space weather.

Maximum solar energy is here

The northern lights, also known as the aurora borealis, have begun appearing more frequently in the night sky over the United States recently. In April 2023, for example, a stunning aurora display was seen as far south as Arkansas in the south and Arizona in the west.

So why the increase in aurora viewing? Is this expected to continue? Well, if you love the aurora, you’re in luck, because they may be coming to the skies near you more often over the next few years thanks to a “solar maximum,” which is expected to peak this year.

“There has been an increase in aurora borealis overall on Earth,” Shannon Schmuhl, director of the Abrams Planetarium at Michigan State University He told USA TODAY last year. “The Sun has been more active, leading to more solar storms that cause solar flares and coronal mass ejections (CMEs).

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Tips for viewing the northern lights

“Go out at night,” the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said. “And stay away from the city lights.”

The best twilight is usually within an hour or two of midnight (between 10:00 PM and 2:00 AM local time). These hours extend towards the evening and morning as the level of geomagnetic activity increases.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said there may be aurora in the evening and morning, but they are usually not active and therefore not visually appealing.

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