Northern Lights: Coming to a Sky Near You?

By Tom Yulsman | January 9, 2014 2:30 am
Sun SDO Solar Flare

A massive solar flare erupting from the sun on Tuesday was captured by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft. (Source: NASA/SDO)

The massive flare that erupted from the sun on Tuesday could bring beautiful displays of the Northern Lights as far south as Colorado late on Thursday night and early Friday morning.

Click on the screenshot above to watch a movie of the solar flare captured by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft.

Aurora Northern Lights Sun Forecast

Aurora forecast. (Source: University of Alaska Geophysical Institute)

It was associated with a huge eruption of material called a coronal mass ejection. Now, that material is racing toward Earth and is expected to trigger a strong geomagnetic storm — a disturbance to Earth’s protective magnetic bubble called the magnetosphere. It’s that kind of disturbance that triggers the Northern Lights.

The University of Alaska’s Geophysical Institute predicts that auroral activity will be high on Thursday:

Weather permitting, highly active auroral displays will be visible overhead from Inuvik, Yellowknife, Rankin and Igaluit to Juneau, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Thunder Bay and Sept-Iles, and visible low on the horizon from Seattle, Des Moines, Chicago, Cleveland, Boston, and Halifax.

The Denver Post is reporting that displays of the aurora could even reach where I live near Boulder, Colorado. “This is very rare, especially for as far south as Denver and Boulder,” Joe Kunches, a forecaster with the federal Space Weather Prediction Center, told the Post.

There are no guarantees, of course. Clouds could obscure the view, city lights could wash it out, the solar material could arrive earlier or later than forecast, affecting visibility, etc. For the latest updates on what might happen, check the Space Weather Prediction Center here.

Happy viewing!

CATEGORIZED UNDER: select, Sun, Top Posts
  • Attorney Matthews Bark Orlando

    Aurorae are the most visible effect of the Sun’s activity on the Earth’s
    atmosphere, and are evidence that the Sun and Earth are connected by
    more than just sunlight. The occurrence and frequency of the Northern
    Lights depends on the activity of the Sun, which has an eleven year
    cycle. The displays are linked with the solar wind, a continuous flow of
    electrically charged particles from the Sun. These particles travel
    through space and if they reach the Earth’s magnetic field they travel
    towards the magnetic poles (the North and South Poles) colliding with
    oxygen and nitrogen molecules along the way. When a large number of
    these fast-moving collisions occur, it produces enough light for the eye
    to detect, and appear as coloured dancing streaks or arcs of light
    across the sky.

  • Lee Wayne Ryder

    How does this rate against the Carrington event?

  • Amorette

    Where I live in Montana, we only get the Northern Lights occasionally. I will be peering northward–if the clouds allow–tonight!

    • vernon stanton

      Where I live in New Mexico, we never get the Northern lights. Enjoy the fact that you get to see them at all. I guess we do get lots of extremely nice sunsets and sunrises. You probably get those too though…



ImaGeo is a visual blog focusing on the intersection of imagery, imagination and Earth. It focuses on spectacular visuals related to the science of our planet, with an emphasis (although not an exclusive one) on the unfolding Anthropocene Epoch.

About Tom Yulsman

Tom Yulsman is Director of the Center for Environmental Journalism and a Professor of Journalism at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He also continues to work as a science and environmental journalist with more than 30 years of experience producing content for major publications. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Audubon, Climate Central, Columbia Journalism Review, Discover, Nieman Reports, and many other publications. He has held a variety of editorial positions over the years, including a stint as editor-in-chief of Earth magazine. Yulsman has written one book: Origins: the Quest for Our Cosmic Roots, published by the Institute of Physics in 2003.


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