Northern Lights May Ignite in Northeast, Central US Skies: Where to See Rare Show
September 12, 2014; 9:02 AM
Stargazers could be in for a rare display Friday night as an Earth-directed solar flare ignites the northern lights, also known as the aurora borealis, in the United States. As a result of the flare's direction and strength, the dazzling light display could reach as far south as Maryland in the East and down over Nebraska farther west.
According to AccuWeather.com Astronomer Hunter Outten, the flare is ranked as an X-class, or the highest class for a solar flare. Along with the brilliant light display that may be visible to some in the northern part of the country, a flare of this magnitude could also have adverse effects on GPS, radio frequencies and cell phone and satellite reception as well.
A coronal mass ejection (CME), or a cloud of charged particles released from solar activity, reached the Earth's atmosphere around midday Friday. The CME is expected to induce a geomagnetic storm that will cause the northern lights show. Outten said that this CME is the second of a "two-hit punch," as another had hit the Earth's atmosphere on Thursday.
"There will be a pretty good chance to see the northern lights [Friday] because of the first geomagnetic storm Thursday night," Outten said. "It's good timing."
Outten said that with northern light displays, the best viewing will occur around midnight in each respective time zone, but that they will start being visible after night falls.
"[Some] people won't have to stay up late to see them, but it will get better throughout the night," he said.
As the best viewing for the northern lights will occur Friday night, the northern lights will be seen in the Northeast first and then become visible farther west.
There will be some hurdles present for some hopeful viewers, however. Outten pointed out that we're just getting out of the Supermoon, so the light will dull some of the views. There will also be some cloud coverage that will hinder views as well. Clouds will be especially problematic in the Upper Ohio Valley into the Northeast.
Some clouds reaching the northern Plains may also hinder viewing conditions.
Outten said that DSLR cameras will pick up the lights better than the human eye may.
Solar flares create auroras when radiation from the sun reaches Earth and interacts with charged protons in our atmosphere. The effects are greater at the magnetic poles and weaken as they move south from the Arctic or north of the Antarctic. In the Northern Hemisphere, the results are called the aurora borealis, with the aurora australis being its southern counterpart. The result is a spectacular display of light and color for areas with clear enough views.