Aurora could be visible as far south as New York, Wisconsin and Washington state on Monday, thanks to a geomagnetic storm


The Northern Lights seen in Iceland. Ingólfur Bjargmundsson / Getty Images

  • People could see the Northern Lights from “New York to Wisconsin to Washington State” on Monday.

  • That’s because Earth could experience a moderate geomagnetic storm, according to NOAA forecasters.

  • These storms occur when solar particles interact with the planet’s magnetic field.

  • See more stories on the Insider business page.

Residents of the northern United States should be observing the skies Monday night – you may see the Northern Lights.

Usually, the Northern Lights glue near the Earth’s magnetic north pole in the Arctic. But during geomagnetic storms, the sun sends out an increased amount of energy and charged particles, which bombard the Earth’s magnetic field. This can cause the aurora to drift south.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts that a moderate geomagnetic storm tonight could see the aurorae “as low as New York to Wisconsin to Washington state.”

To find out if the lights might be visible where you live, the NOAA Northern Lights forecast gives real-time updates on how far south the Northern Lights will be visible in the northern hemisphere. It also notes how far north its counterpart – the aurora australis, or aurora australis – can be spotted in the southern hemisphere.

The best time to see the Northern Lights is between 9:00 p.m. and 3:00 a.m. local time; head to a dark area away from the city lights.

Northern Lights in Alaska Northern Lights
The sky over the frozen Susitna River in Alaska is illuminated by the Northern Lights on January 23, 2012. Michael Dinneen / AP

The Northern Lights are usually only visible in what is known as the Aurora Zone, or oval aurora – an area between 60 degrees and 75 degrees north latitude. They are mostly spotted in winter, as this area receives nearly 24 hours of daylight between April and August. (However, astronauts on the International Space Station are often treated to spectacular views of the aurora.)

Storms like the one forecast for Monday extend this area to more southerly latitudes.

The Northern Lights and Southern Lights usually look like green ribbons in the sky, although they are sometimes dotted with red, pink or blue hues. The phenomenon is the result of charged particles from the sun hitting our planet. These are channeled to the poles by the Earth’s magnetic field, where they interact with particles in our atmosphere.

While a certain amount of this solar wind still floods the planet’s atmosphere, the sun sometimes emits an unusual wave of particles and super hot plasma, known as coronal mass ejection.

solar wind of mars
Artist’s impression of a coronal mass ejection hitting a planet. Nasa

These geomagnetic storms can disrupt the operations of satellites and ground-based electrical infrastructure. The more the solar wind interacts with our magnetic field, the stronger the potential impact. On Monday, NOAA predicts that small fluctuations in power grids and minor impact on satellite orientations are possible.

NOAA rates geomagnetic storms on a scale of one to five, depending on the extent of the disturbance they cause. One is a minor storm that only slightly impacts satellites, while five is a major event that could cause widespread blackouts and damage electrical transformers.

Monday’s storm is ranked two. About 600 of these storms occur every 11 years.

The higher the category, the more the dawn is pushed south. A storm rated five could take people as far south as Florida and Texas to spot the Northern Lights.

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