Aurora Borealis aka Northern Lights: How, where and when to watch the splendor of awe-inspiring phenomenon in US

This year is special for the US as reports suggest lights will be visible on December 9 and 10 in some parts. Here’s where one can watch the wonder

                            Aurora Borealis aka Northern Lights: How, where and when to watch the splendor of awe-inspiring phenomenon in US
(Getty Images)

It is indeed that time of the year when the dazzling and awe-inspiring natural phenomenon of Northern Lights occur. It lights the skies with an overlay of green and blue hues in the dead of the winter. The alluring naturally beautiful sky has since ages become a musing for intrepid travelers and tourists across the world who desire to catch a glimpse of this temporal phenomenon. While the fleeting natural wonder is not easily visible in the US, this year many of us might be lucky! As per reports, Northern Lights will be visible in parts of the US, although under certain favorable conditions. Here’s a look at where and how one can see the rare gleaming sky. 

What are the Northern Lights?

For the unversed, the Aurora Borealis aka Northern Lights, occurs when charged particles from the Sun collide with atoms in the Earth’s atmosphere. To elaborate more, “The origin of the aurora begins on the surface of the sun when solar activity ejects a cloud of gas. Scientists call this a coronal mass ejection (CME). If one of these reaches earth, taking about 2 to 3 days, it collides with the Earth’s magnetic field. This field is invisible, and if you could see its shape, it would make Earth look like a comet with a long magnetic ‘tail’ stretching a million miles behind Earth in the opposite direction of the sun”, mentions library of Congress.

(ISRAEL OUT) The Aurora Borealis glows in the sky, September 03, 2007, in the Greenland town of Kangerlussuaq. The Northern Lights most often occurs from September to October and from March to April and are a popular tourist attraction.(Getty Images)

The site adds, “When a coronal mass ejection collides with the magnetic field, it causes complex changes to happen to the magnetic tail region. These changes generate currents of charged particles, which then flow along lines of magnetic force into the Polar Regions. These particles are boosted in energy in Earth’s upper atmosphere, and when they collide with oxygen and nitrogen atoms, they produce dazzling auroral light”.

The Northern lights have engendered an intrepid desire in all of us to meet the conditions that are needed to gaze at them. However, not all can see them as these lights are best visible from cold regions like Alaska, Northern Canada, Southern Greenland, Iceland, and Northern Scandinavia. But this year is special for the USA too as reports they will be visible in parts of the continent. 

When and where to watch

The Space Weather Prediction Center has said there is a surge in aurora activity for Wednesday, December 9, and Thursday, December 10. As per reports, the northern lights will be seen relatively far south in the continental United States. If it arrives as per the forecast, some projections show it might be seen as far as Oregon, Nebraska, Connecticut, Rhode Island, West Virginia. Northern Missouri, and New Jersey, among many other places across the country. 

National Weather Service tweeted an update on December 9 saying, “The Space Weather Prediction Center currently has Geomagnetic Storm Watches in effect from December 9th - 11th. Tomorrow's watch is for a G3 event meaning the northern lights could be seen as far south as the yellow line below.”


Another update read,” There is a chance that the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) might be visible here tonight and tomorrow night, although cloud cover could be a factor. Better chances to see it will come as you go farther north and away from well-lit urban areas.” A third update read, “So there is a lot of buzz about potential #SolarStorm heading our way. The SWPC issued a G3 Geomagnetic Storm Watch for Thursday, Dec 10th. The yellow line on the map shows the furthest southward potential for the #NorthernLights could be observed.”



How to Watch

Even if you are at favorable locations to view the wonder, it is not sure if one would catch a glimpse. However, the exciting news is that one can set their watches as per the suitable time to watch them. The SWPC's 3-Day Forecast shows a G1 alert starting at 5 pm ET on the night of December 9. It doesn't subside until 5 am on December 10. 

Matt Tuck and his friends toast to success beneath the northern lights after Jagermeister's Ice Cold Gig became the world's first air, sea and land gig on March 11, 2016 in Lyngsfjord, Norway.(Getty Images)

“There is an area in the middle of the watch, from 11 pm to 2 am, when it becomes a G3 watch with a Kp index of 7. That's when the SWPC currently projects that the northern lights will have the greatest potential to reach the southern limits on the map above. On the night of December 10, there's a G1 watch listed from 8-11 pm, and then a G2 watch from 11 pm to 2 am.”, The Thrillist reports on exact timings to watch. 

Favorable weather conditions needed

For the USA where the light will cast its faint spell of magnificent aura, pollution can make it impossible to view the lights from metros like New York, Seattle, and Minneapolis. "If the storm gets this strong, it is possible to see the northern lights as far south as northern Pennsylvania, Iowa, and Washington, but it will look more like a faint glow on the horizon, not swirling bands of light overhead like what people think of when they think about the aurora," AccuWeather Meteorologist Brian Lada said as reported by ABC 7.
ABC 7 reported, Minnesota and Wisconsin appear to be among some of the places with the least amount of cloud coverage, as per Samuhel, though northern New England and the Northwest will have poor conditions for viewing the aurora."I'd say light pollution affects (visibility of the northern lights) much more than meteor showers," Samuhel said. "It is usually so dim when it's visible this far south that you have to be in a pitch-black area to see it, even then it could still be too dim."

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