Strong solar storm to cause northern lights in Michigan

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This Friday night, Michigan residents have a rare chance to witness the captivating northern lights. Typically visible only in the state’s northern regions, this spectacular display of light is expected to reach further south due to a significant geomagnetic storm triggered by a solar coronal mass ejection.

Strong solar storm to cause northern lights in Michigan
Strong solar storm to cause northern lights in Michigan

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has issued a noteworthy G4 alert—the first since 2005—signifying an impending severe geomagnetic storm that will impact Earth’s magnetic field starting Friday and continuing through the weekend. In a subsequent update, NOAA reported extreme G5 conditions, an event not observed since 2003.

Geomagnetic storms are disruptions in Earth’s magnetosphere caused by solar wind energy, often following a coronal mass ejection from the sun. NOAA has identified several earth-directed coronal mass ejections (CMEs) along with potent solar flares originating from a vast and complex sunspot cluster, which is sixteen times larger than Earth.

Since the start of the solar cycle in 2019, only three severe geomagnetic storms have occurred. These storms can pose risks to power grids, spacecraft, and radio communications by inducing unexpected electrical currents.

The upcoming storm is expected to expand the visibility of the northern lights beyond their typical polar range, potentially reaching areas closer to the equator, with forecasts suggesting visibility as far south as Alabama.

The optimal viewing window for the aurora borealis begins late Friday into early Saturday, particularly after 10 p.m., and experts advise waiting until after midnight for the best display.

Shawn Dahl from the Space Weather Prediction Center highlighted the challenge of predicting the arrival times of solar events due to their immense distance—93 million miles from Earth—though the arrival of this storm is confidently anticipated.

Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, with its northern latitude and unobstructed views from the southern coast of Lake Superior, offers ideal conditions for observing the northern lights within the contiguous United States.

While April, October, and November around the equinoxes are peak viewing times due to heightened solar activity, the aurora borealis can be observed throughout the year.

Planning a northern lights expedition this summer necessitates monitoring weather forecasts for clear skies and utilizing tools like NOAA’s 30-minute forecast or specialized apps to identify optimal viewing conditions.

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