The Northern Lights May Peak This Week As Earth Syncs With An Angry Sun. One of naked eye astronomy’s greatest sights, the Northern Lights (or Southern Lights south of the equator) are the result of the solar wind interacting with Earth’s magnetic field. If you live in one of the best places on Earth to see them, don’t miss out on this once-in-a-decade opportunity!
What Is Aurora Borealis?
In the 1600s, the Italian scientist Galileo Galilei became one of the first humans to see the auroras. Today, people report seeing them in yellow, green, and even red hues. It was back then that Galileo figured out that this spectacle was not caused by lanterns or fireflies but instead high up in Earth’s atmosphere.
While today we know a lot more about auroras and have better ways of seeing them, they still remain one of our solar system’s most beautiful features. On earth, auroras appear as dancing lights in brilliant colors and are caused by collisions between highly charged particles from our sun that enter Earth’s atmosphere. These collisions can happen at any time but are most common when there is high solar activity—like now! As our sun experiences increasingly active periods, auroras are likely to be seen on a near-nightly basis. The current period of heightened activity comes as our sun enters an 11-year solar cycle known as Solar Cycle 24.
A Brief History Of Auroras
Auroras are created when charged particles from the solar wind interact with Earth’s magnetic field, causing a buildup of electricity which is released in waves through the atmosphere, hitting atoms and molecules along the way. These interactions cause this colorful phenomenon. A good place to see them is outside, away from city lights. Sit somewhere where you can watch either North or South, with your back pointed at Polaris (North) or Sigma Octantis (South). Now find a dark spot to sit on the ground, where there is no light pollution coming from buildings or streetlights. If there are trees around, just make sure they aren't too close to you because they'll block out any chance of viewing the aurora if they're closer than 50 feet away. Now all you have to do is wait! There should be a few different ways that an aurora will appear in front of your eyes: Some may be greenish-blue while others could be more reddish-pink. The patterns will also change depending on how big it gets--a small aurora might only cover an arc up into the sky for about 45 degrees but larger ones could cover nearly 180 degrees!
Location Is Everything
In the end, all you need to see a display of the Aurora Borealis is darkness and clear skies. To increase your chances of seeing one, look for places where there are few artificial lights. For instance, if you're in Canada try traveling near Lake Superior. The best time for seeing the lights would be around local midnight. When viewing from the Earth's surface, auroras seem to circle the North (or South) Magnetic Pole. Which means that if you're looking due south at mid-northern latitudes on a map of Earth at night and see the Milky Way high overhead with its center to the right, you will also see an area (about 2/3rds down from right edge) where stars seem to form a semicircle near their lower left side. That is called the circumpolar region or auroral zone.
Best Times To Watch For The Northern Lights
Highly active days for aurora viewing include now through the beginning of March, so if you're in a more temperate climate (and have winter night skies) you may still have time to catch this display. You should be able to see the Northern Lights best an hour or two before dawn, when the sky has cleared and it’s dark enough for their greenish-purple glow. The moonless period from mid-January through March offers some of the darkest nights and best conditions for these events. So grab your binoculars and put that tripod in your trunk: It's worth it.
Best Places In Canada To Watch For The Northern Lights
This week, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported that a coronal mass ejection—an intense burst of solar wind—could create an above average show. The northern lights are typically best in the world’s cold places; in Canada, this includes regions like Nunavut and Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nova Scotia. Other areas in Canada where you might be able to watch for them include central British Columbia, Newfoundland and Labrador as well as coastal Maine. There are many tours set up in these locations so that travelers can have access to resources and know-how if they would like to go on a chase.
10 Best Tips For Seeing The Northern Lights
1) Find an open spot with no light pollution.
2) Stay inside until the aurora is in full effect.
3) Be on the lookout for the color green or red, not just white.
4) Give your eyes time to adjust if they’ve been used heavily before looking up at the sky (cameras, phones, tablets).
5) Drink lots of water since you will be staying awake late and won’t be getting much sleep.
6) Wear layers and keep a jacket nearby because it gets chilly outside as soon as the sun goes down.
7) Be patient: Auroras can take hours to appear.
8) Pick a cold night: Warm air rises, so cooler temperatures mean better visibility.
9) Keep an eye out for snow showers: Snow reflects more light from the moon which can make it easier to see fainter lights.
10) Bring something warm like hot cocoa or tea so that when you get back inside you'll have something warm to drink!
Where Will The Next Big Solar Storm Hit?
Because of this, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) tracks solar storms and provides advance warnings for potential geomagnetic storms. Just yesterday, NOAA alerted that a solar storm could send an earth-bound CME our way at some point today or tomorrow. There is still uncertainty about when and where the next big solar storm will hit, but one thing’s for certain: It’s definitely going to be spectacular.
How To Photograph The Northern Lights
*Get your gear ready! Use a high-quality SLR camera, mount it on a tripod, and use either a fast wide-angle lens with an aperture of f2.8 or better, or zoom in with a telephoto lens (300mm or longer) and make sure the shutter speed is at least 1/500th of a second. Make sure the white balance is set on ‘daylight’.
*Set up near the area where the lights are predicted to be the brightest. Point your camera due north for starters, then adjust your angle according to how interesting you want the foreground of your photos to be – mountain ranges and tree lines are usually best from this perspective.