More Auroras Coming to Northern Skies

Keep your eye on the northern sky. Auroras are in the forecast for the next couple nights courtesy of a "hole" in the Sun's corona.

Update (October 25th): Since early this morning, a stronger than expected blast of solar wind has been ruffling Earth's magnetic field and stoking a strong geomagnetic storm. We're currently experiencing a G3 / Kp 7 event that's expected to last into mid-afternoon Eastern Time. Observers in northern Europe and Russia will likely witness an excellent display of northern lights. Their southern counterparts in New Zealand should also be on the lookout for the aurora australis. By the time darkness arrives in North America, the geomagnetic storm level is expected to drop to G2 / Kp 6 or moderate. Observers across the northern U.S. and southern Canada are urged to be on the lookout for aurora tonight.
Holey Solar Wind Batman

A large hole in the Sun's corona, called a coronal hole, is behind the uptick in the auroral activity this week. Holes allow high-speed solar winds to stream directly into space, carrying high-speed particles that can link into Earth's magnetic field and spark auroras. This photo was taken October 23rd in far-ultraviolet light by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory.
NASA / SDO

A hole in the Sun's corona has sparked what may turn into a 3-night-long show of northern lights. Auroras flared last night and are expected to fire up again tonight (October 24th) and strengthen further on Tuesday night.

Skywatchers who stayed up into the wee hours this morning were treated to a very nice show. Like many auroras, the display began with a greenish arc perched low over the northern horizon.

I viewed it from near Duluth, Minnesota, starting around 10 o'clock, but the aurora was also spotted from other northern U.S. and Canadian locations. For more than 2 hours, the recumbent arc quietly thickened, thinned, brightened and dimmed. Then at 12:30 a.m. today, it suddenly broke up into a froth of parallel streamers that stretched to 25° high.

According to NOAA's space weather forecast, after a lull this morning, the chances for more geomagnetic storming returns this afternoon U.S. time (night in Europe) and continues through the night into the early morning hours. Storms are rated on a scale from G1 to G5 with G1 being minor and G5 severe. G1 storms are visible from the northern parts of the U.S. from Maine, Michigan, Minnesota and points west. G2 or moderate storms can bring the aurora into view across the Midwest and northern mountain states. If you live in the southern half of the U.S. you likely will have to wait until levels hit G3 or higher.

Points Ethereal and Earthly

The aurora erupted in a fine display of sharp-tipped rays early this morning around 12:30 a.m. as seen from near Duluth, Minn. More auroras are expected Monday and Tuesday nights Oct. 24-25.
Bob King

Storm levels relate to another measure of magnetic activity high in Earth's ionosphere called the Kp index, a measure of magnetic fluctuations in the Earth's ionosphere. When reading the forecast, Kp = 5 corresponds to a G1 storm, Kp = 6 to a G2 storm, and Kp = 7 to a storm of G3 or stronger.

We're expecting some G2 but mostly G1 storms this evening (October 24th), but that will ramp up to G2 by Tuesday evening, the 25th. With no Moon to light up the sky, viewing conditions are ideal. Regularly check the forecast link to see if conditions have changed.

A Quiet Start

A display of northern lights often begins as a quiet arc low above the northern horizon just below the Big Dipper. The arc may "slumber" for much of the night or fade away. Or it can brighten and explode into a multiple rays and flashing forms. The green color comes from excited oxygen atoms.
Bob King

To view the aurora, find a location with a clear view to the north. The closer you can see down to the northern horizon the better. Auroral displays often begin with a long, low arc about 5° high spanning from northwest to northeast. When activity shoots up, the arc often breaks apart into rays which can brighten and reach all the way to the zenith — and beyond! — in strong displays.

Solar Outpouring

Over much of the Sun, magnetic fields form closed loops, but in a coronal hole (top), solar particles are free to waft into space.
NASA/SDO

This aurora is brought to you by a monster hole in the Sun's corona where the solar magnetic field and the particles embedded within it fly unrestrained into space. When they brush by Earth, those fields can reconnect with Earth's under the right conditions and send solar electrons and protons down along our planet's magnetic field lines into the upper atmosphere, where they can create auroras.

While solar weather can be unpredictable, here's hoping for a nice show the next couple of nights.

4 thoughts on “More Auroras Coming to Northern Skies

  1. Graham-Wolf

    Hi Bob

    When the “Borealis” erupts up your way, we also get an instantaneous and corresponding “Australis” version down our way. And, at 46 South, we Kiwis are located right in the Southern Aurora “sweet-spot”. As international Grade I Radio Ham ZL2-CHAR, I can also confirm that auroral activity creates propagation havoc with HF and Short Wave reception (~10 to ~25MHz)…. WWV, WWVH etc. We did visually detect some auroral activity on the 23rd UT down here at 46 South, near local midnight, to the S.W. Only had a brief hour of clear skies, but that was enough! Bagged an aurora and a precursor eruption of Comet 29p/SW1. Not bad, eh?

    Regards
    Graham W. Wolf:- NZ

    1. Bob KingBob King Post author

      Graham-Wolf,
      I always like hearing about the southern lights, so it’s very nice to know you saw essentially the same display I did half a world away! They’re out again tonight BTW, not bright yet, but they stoked up around 8 p.m. CDT.

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