Northern lights may be visible in Michigan Wednesday, Thursday nights
- Michigan residents may be able to catch the northern lights Wednesday and Thursday nights
- The light show, when it appears, is typically limited to northern regions of the state
- A geomagnetic storm caused by coronal mass ejection from the sun can make the show visible in lower parts of the country
Earth could be impacted by another geomagnetic storm, making the northern lights visible in Michigan and across much of the northern U.S. Wednesday and Thursday night.
The National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) raised a geomagnetic storm watch for Wednesday and Thursday. The NOAA space weather prediction center indicated the storm will be moderate and is expected to hit Earth’s magnetic field Wednesday followed by minor storm levels on Thursday.
Geomagnetic storms are caused by solar flares erupting from the sun ejecting billions of tons of plasma. This phenomenon is called a coronal mass ejection (CME).
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“The smallest portion of this material is what’s going to hit our magnetic field rather than the thicker, faster moving portion of it,” Lt Bryan Brasher for the space weather prediction center, told Bridge Michigan in an interview Wednesday.
The northern lights, or aurora borealis, produce an ethereal light show that is typically limited to regions a bit closer to the northern and southern poles. But geomagnetic storms can cause the lights to be seen in places closer to the equator, depending on the intensity of the storm.
“Our current forecast probably says the aurora can be visible as far south as northern Iowa, throughout most of Wisconsin, the northern parts of Wyoming (and) northern Idaho,” Brasher said.
The storm can cause widespread disruption to power grids, spacecraft and radio communications.
A similar storm impacted Earth in late April. That storm did disrupt some power grids but residents in places as far south as California, Virginia and even Arkansas, where the northern lights are rarely seen, were able to catch the show.
The months of April, October and November (near the spring and fall equinox) are peak viewing times; it’s when solar particles are most likely to react with the Earth’s magnetic field, producing ribbons of blue, green, pink and violet light. But the northern lights happen year-round.
There is still time this summer to catch the northern lights, though it’s elusive, requiring a mix of clear skies, a dark night, keeping tabs on meteorological forecasts and a bit of luck.
Brasher said these storms will become more common over the next two years as the sun reaches peak activity.
“We expect the sun to be at peak activity sometime within the next one or two years,” he said. “ As we approach that activity the solar environment is going to get more dynamic and the magnetic field is going to get more and more twisted up and that results in more sun spots, more solar flames and more CMEs.”
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