A geomagnetic storm caused by a coronal mass ejection from the sun has created a spectacular display of the northern lights, also known as the aurora borealis, in some parts of the world. The phenomenon, which occurs when electrically charged solar particles collide with the earth’s atmosphere, could be seen as far south as New York and Idaho in the United States, and in parts of Canada, Iceland and Norway.
What is a coronal mass ejection?
A coronal mass ejection (CME) is a large expulsion of plasma and magnetic field from the sun’s atmosphere. It can travel at speeds of up to several million miles per hour and reach the earth in one to three days. CMEs can cause geomagnetic storms, which are disturbances in the earth’s magnetosphere, the region of space dominated by the earth’s magnetic field. Geomagnetic storms can affect satellite communications, navigation systems, power grids and auroral activity.
How to see the northern lights
The northern lights are best seen in dark and clear skies, away from city lights and other sources of light pollution. The intensity and location of the aurora depend on the strength and direction of the geomagnetic storm. The NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center provides a short-term forecast of the aurora’s visibility, based on a map that shows the probability of seeing the lights at different latitudes. The forecast for Tuesday predicted a moderate (G2) storm, which could make the aurora visible as low as New York and Idaho. However, some experts suggested that the storm could intensify to a strong (G3) level, which could extend the visibility to Illinois and Oregon.
Photos and videos of the northern lights
Many people have captured stunning images and videos of the northern lights during this week’s solar storm. Some of them have shared their experiences on social media platforms such as Twitter and Instagram. Here are some examples of the amazing views that people have witnessed:
- A video of the northern lights over Lake Superior in Minnesota
- A photo of the northern lights over Mount Baker in Washington
- A photo of the northern lights over Reykjavik in Iceland
- A photo of the northern lights over Tromso in Norway
More opportunities to see the northern lights
According to scientists, the sun is in a particularly active phase of its 11-year solar cycle, which means that there may be more chances to see the northern lights in the near future. The solar cycle is marked by changes in the sun’s activity, such as sunspots, flares and CMEs. The current cycle, known as Solar Cycle 25, began in December 2019 and is expected to peak around 2025. The solar activity tends to increase around the equinoxes, which occur in March and September, making these months ideal for aurora hunting.