North Americans will be able to see on Wednesday night, into early Thursday morning, a spectacle in the sky coming directly from the greatest star placed in the center of our Solar System: aurora borealis.

On Monday, the massive extremely-hot star released a large coronal mass ejection (CME), which has traveled for two days straight to our planet. The most incredible thing is that it will be possible to see it further from the poles, as it passes over the northernmost United States before it continues its journey.

Image credit: Christopher Martin Photography
Image credit: Christopher Martin Photography

People from northeast Montana, North Dakota, northeast South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine will be able to see it right in front of their eyes from their own houses.

However, the moon will be brighter than usual in the northern US states on Wednesday night, so it might difficult the view the auroras.

The incredible lights that might damage communications satellites

Due to different chemical reactions, here on the Earth, we see these CME as a group of colorful lights in the sky known as aurora borealis or the Northern Lights, and aurora australis or Southern Lights. The lights are caused by the electrons of the CME that hit the atmosphere and the air molecules, making them catch the energy and take the shape of colorful long-tails.

“The accelerated electrons follow the magnetic field of Earth down to the Polar Regions where they collide with oxygen and nitrogen atoms and molecules in Earth’s upper atmosphere. In these collisions, the electrons transfer their energy to the atmosphere thus exciting the atoms and molecules to higher energy states. When they relax back down to lower energy states, they release their energy in the form of light,” said the NOAA on its website.

Although the auroras create an incredible spectacle, NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center has seemed a little bit concerned about this event. Auroras can distort the magnetic field of the Earth, and damage GPS and communications satellites. However, the chances that this CME causes a “G3” geomagnetic storm are really low.

Auroras don’t appear in many places

Auroras can be seen in some areas once every two nights. They mostly appear in areas like Alaska, Greenland, Scandinavia, the northern half of Russia, and the outer fringes of Antarctica. Also, the colorful lights – which are really hard to capture in cameras – are best viewed in extremely dark skies where there’s not much light pollution, and after the eyes have adapted to the darkness for at least 10 minutes.

“Then in the early morning the auroral forms can take on a more cloud-like appearance. These diffuse patches often blink on and off repeatedly for hours, then they disappear as the sun rises in the east. The best place to observe the aurora is under an oval shaped region between the north and south latitudes of about 60 and 75 degrees. At these polar latitudes, the aurora can be observed more than half of the nights of a given year,” according to NOAA.

Source: Business Insider