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Aurora Borealis may display this week, but visibility limited in the US

by Chloe Baker
6 comments
Northern Lights prediction

The Aurora Borealis, also known as the Northern Lights, could illuminate the sky this week. However, it appears the spectacle will be visible to a much smaller audience than earlier predictions indicated.

The celestial light show will follow a conventional pattern: Parts of Canada may be fortunate to witness the flickering curtain of the Northern Lights, while a few in the US might observe a subtle reddish hue at the horizon. Below are the details regarding the revised predictions.

WHO WILL BE ABLE TO OBSERVE THE LIGHTS THIS WEEK?

A preliminary forecast from the University of Alaska Fairbanks Geophysical Institute, based on data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), suggested that the Northern Lights might be seen significantly further south this week. However, these predictions were made considering long-term estimations of the solar activity that causes the phenomenon. More recent NOAA data does not hint at anything extraordinary for the US.

“Predicting space weather is as challenging as predicting Earth’s weather,” mentioned Jonathan Blazek, a physicist from Northeastern University.

The forecasts for North America indicate that large swaths of Canada and Alaska could witness the Northern Lights on Wednesday and Thursday. Residents of some areas of the contiguous US — including portions of Wisconsin, Michigan, and Montana — might also get a glimpse. Yet, for these observers, the aurora will likely appear as a “subtle glow at the horizon” rather than a sparkling green veil, stated Lt. Bryan Brasher from NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center.

For those within the viewing range, seeking out unobstructed, dark skies between 9 p.m. and 3 a.m. will offer the best possibility to observe the aurora’s vivid luminescence.

WHAT TRIGGERS THE NORTHERN LIGHTS?

The Northern Lights occur when particles from the sun travel towards Earth and interact with our planet’s atmosphere.

The sun constantly emits a stream of charged particles known as the solar wind. When these particles collide with gases like oxygen and nitrogen in Earth’s atmosphere, they transfer some of their energy, akin to the collision of two billiard balls, according to Brasher.

This interaction excites the atoms and molecules, which then emit part of their energy as light, resulting in the magnificent displays of greens, blues, pinks, and reds.

The intensity of the solar wind fluctuates. “During solar storms, the particle concentration increases. It becomes windier than usual,” Blazek said. During these periods of intensified solar wind, auroras tend to be more frequent and vivid, and may even extend towards the equator, allowing observers farther south to enjoy the spectacle.

At times, the sun also releases substantial amounts of plasma in a phenomenon known as a coronal mass ejection, Brasher noted. If one of these bursts grazes Earth, it can disrupt our planet’s magnetic field, leading to dazzling auroras.

HOW ARE THE PREDICTIONS MADE?

Scientists continually monitor the sun through ground-based and space telescopes as space weather can influence radio communications, satellites, power grids, and more, Brasher explained.

The sun completes a rotation every 27 days. Hence, if scientists spot an area of high activity, they may anticipate a recurrence in a few weeks.

However, conditions can alter by the time the sun completes its rotation. Even then, the multitude of factors involved makes accurate prediction challenging.

Generally, as we are approaching a solar maximum in the next couple of years, the sun’s activity is increasing, Brasher said. Consequently, we might expect more solar storms — which translates to more Northern Lights.

“Stay tuned, as we are likely to witness more of these,” Brasher encouraged.


The Health and Science Department of The Big Big News is supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Science and Educational Media Group. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Northern Lights prediction

Where will the Northern Lights be visible this week?

The Northern Lights are expected to be visible in large parts of Canada and Alaska. A few parts of the contiguous U.S. — including certain regions of Wisconsin, Michigan, and Montana — might also catch a glimpse of a faint glow at the horizon.

Who provided the forecast for the visibility of the Northern Lights?

The forecast was provided by the University of Alaska Fairbanks Geophysical Institute, using data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center also contributes to these predictions.

What causes the Northern Lights?

The Northern Lights occur when particles from the sun, carried by the solar wind, interact with gases such as oxygen and nitrogen in the Earth’s atmosphere. This interaction excites the atoms and molecules, which then emit part of their energy as light, creating colorful displays.

When is the best time to observe the Northern Lights?

For those in range, seeking out clear, dark skies between 9 p.m. and 3 a.m. will provide the best opportunity to observe the aurora’s colorful glow.

How are predictions about the Northern Lights made?

Scientists continuously monitor the sun using telescopes on Earth and in space. They pay attention to the sun’s rotation and areas of high activity that could influence the occurrence of solar storms and, consequently, the visibility of the Northern Lights.

More about Northern Lights prediction

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6 comments

RoadtripPlanner July 14, 2023 - 8:18 am

Looks like it’s time to head north! Canada here we come. hoping to catch the aurora this time.

Reply
SkyWatcher23 July 14, 2023 - 11:50 am

this stuffs so cool. space weather is wild. wish we got to see this more often down in the lower 48

Reply
JennyScienceGeek July 14, 2023 - 12:22 pm

Love these updates, keeps me informed for my astronomy class. Kids love learning about auroras.

Reply
AuroraLover July 14, 2023 - 2:58 pm

Thanks for the info. Gonna keep my eyes open here in Montana. Wish me luck y’all!

Reply
Mike1984 July 14, 2023 - 3:26 pm

man I always wanted to see the northern lights in person! But i’m stuck here in Texas. one day i’ll travel north to witness it!

Reply
AstroCarl July 14, 2023 - 7:05 pm

It’s quite the thing, solar wind. Who’d’ve thought that the suns ‘wind’ could create such beauty. the Universe is amazing!

Reply

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