The Northern Lights Will Be Visible Over the US on Saturday
A geomagnetic storm could give you a rare glimpse of the Northern Lights on Saturday as far south as New York City and Chicago.
Geomagnetic storms such as this one are considered unusual occurrences, which is why you typically have to head north, above the Arctic Circle, to see the aurora borealis. Like any geomagnetic storm, this one will generate solar winds that interact with particles from a layer of gas in the Earth’s atmosphere, causing them to radiate light. But what makes this specific storm so unique is that it's triggered by the arrival of a coronal mass ejection (CME), or a blast of charged particles from the solar corona — a layer of gas that surrounds the sun.
The CME is expected to reach Earth on Saturday, brewing a predicted level G2 storm (moderate) on the NOAA scale, according to a tweet from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
As for where you can catch the Northern Lights on Saturday night, that depends on the strength of the storm — or what the NOAA refers to as the "KP Number." This storm is expected to reach between KP-5 and KP-7, which places the visuals in the northernmost regions of the US.
Rodney Viereck, from NOAA, said that aurora sitings in the northern part of the US mainland are pretty rare (for example, approximately 10 nights per year in Seattle, if any). But, "it helps to have good geomagnetic activity," he wrote in an email to TPG. Though he said it's not expected to be a "big storm," and that residents of northern Michigan, Wisconsin and Maine would have the highest likelihood of seeing the Northern Lights, some charts indicate they could even be seen in New York and over Chicago.
If you want to check if you're in an area with a good probability of Northern Lights visibility, cross-reference your location with the green and yellow lines on the chart below:
The exact time that the lights might be visible, however, is hard to say. Viereck said there are two factors when it comes to determining aurora visibility. "First is when the Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) arrives," said Viereck. "If it arrives in the day time and the activity is brief, you may not see the aurora in the US. If it arrives in the evening or at night, then the best time to see the aurora is between 10pm and 1am.
If you're not in the US, don't fret. There are plenty of other places that could be treated to an appearance of the aurora borealis this weekend, including large swaths of Canada and Scandinavia. Some areas of northern Britain and Ireland are also expected to see the aurora borealis Saturday night as well.
If you plan on traveling Saturday night, be sure to select a window seat so you can admire the light show from the airplane. Flyers can also check out FlightAware.com to see if their route will be crossing paths with the anticipated Northern Light show.