Watch The Northern Lights From Throughout The United States, Thanks To A Geomagnetic Storm
Normally, those of us in the lower 48 (and Hawaii) have almost no chance of seeing the Northern Lights. On Monday, however, a glimmer of hope came from some explosive activity on the sun. Hawaii may still be out of luck, but the rest of us should have our eyes on the skies because we'll be able to watch the Northern Lights right from our homes. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), a geomagnetic storm could cause radio blackouts and enhanced views of the Northern Lights throughout the United States.
On Monday afternoon, a severe geomagnetic storm slammed into Earth. A series of explosions on the sun's corona — one on Thursday, one on Friday, and a third on Sunday — sent "huge explosions of magnetic field and plasma" in our direction, according to NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center. The storm, caused by these explosions, had reached a severe level less than 30 minutes after hitting Earth. NOAA has rated the storm a G4 in severity, the second-highest severity level possible.
G4 storms like the one in our atmosphere now are known to cause power systems to trip mistakenly and radio signals to be disrupted. But, there's a bright side. G4 storms have previously made the aurora borealis — aka the Northern Lights — visible from Alabama to northern California.
Most of the United States will likely experience radio disruptions throughout the duration of the storm, according to a blackout map from NOAA. Although, a similar storm in March reportedly caused only minor issues. If you're asking yourself, "What similar storm in March?", you may have missed your first chance this year to see the Northern Lights without buying a plane ticket to Alaska. Months ago, a G4 geomagnetic storm intensified the lights display in Alaska and made it visible in at least the northern contiguous states, including Washington and Minnesota.
It's difficult to predict where the Lights will be visible, but one indicator is the planetary K-index, which measures a geomagnetic storm's intensity within Earth's magnetic field. According to Joe Kunches, a former lead forecaster and operations chief at the Space Weather Prediction Center, the larger the K-index, the further south the lights will be visible. NOAA updates its K-index measurement every minute. At the time of this writing, the planetary K-index fell somewhere between a five and an eight. That could be good enough for some east coast states to catch a glimpse. Kunches wrote in The Washington Post that a reading of 7 could be enough for the Northern Lights to reach states like Pennsylvania and New Jersey, but at a reading of 9, the aurora could dip even further south than Virginia.
NOAA predicts that this storm could last through Tuesday, giving Americans multiple opportunities to look for the lights. Geomagnetic storms of this severity tend to occur about 100 times in the span of 11 years, a "cycle" as defined by NOAA. They don't often last long, though, spanning an average of just 60 days over the same time period. Look for the Northern Lights out your window before it's too late!
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