Astronomers monitoring solar activity are confident that violent storms on the surface of the sun over the last couple of days could mean that people in Northeast Iowa are able to catch a rare glimpse of the Northern Lights over the next couple of days.
The Aurora Borealis, to give the phenomenon its proper name, occur when energetic charged particles collide with atoms high in the earth’s atmosphere. A huge Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) was observed two days ago and it is believed that this is now sending a strong solar flare towards the earth. It is anticipated that this will generate a geometric storm and the Aurora will therefore be visible. Auroral sub-storms have been visible as far south as Cuba but the further north you are, the more likely you are to witness the lights. Basically, the stronger the Aurora, the farther south it is visible.
Last year, NASA issued a prediction that this winter would see another “solar maximum”. This means that increased cosmic activity is expected and this in turn gives a much better chance of seeing the beautiful displays of ethereal red and green lights in the northern skies.
The exact timings are not clear but provided that the weather calm and the skies are clear, Northeast Iowans have a reasonable chance of seeing the Aurora tonight and also tomorrow. The best vantage point will be somewhere with good views to the north, on elevated ground so that the northern horizon is lower and away from city lights. Auroras are not easy to predict precisely. Sub-storms cause them to stop and start, so if you are watching and waiting you will need to be patient and lucky.
The widest part of the Aurora (and the most visible) occurs when the sun is on the opposite side of the earth. To have the best experience, you need as little competing light as possible and the darker the point you are viewing from, the better. Even the moon can increase the ambient light which can interfere with your view.
If you’re lucky enough to see the Northern Lights, why not post a photo here on the blog and tell the community about your experience?