National Geographic Society Newsroom

Night Sky News: Possible Auroras from Massive Solar Storm?

This week’s titantic eruption seen on the surface of the Sun may have an extra surprise in store for skywatchers in the form of aurora borealis.  While the video taken by NASA’s Solar Dynamics observatory clearly shows that most of the superheated plasma in that giant flare blasted off the sun rained back down, a significant amount of  super charged...

This week’s titantic eruption seen on the surface of the Sun may have an extra surprise in store for skywatchers in the form of aurora borealis.  While the video taken by NASA’s Solar Dynamics observatory clearly shows that most of the superheated plasma in that giant flare blasted off the sun rained back down, a significant amount of  super charged particles managed to escape the gravity well of our star and headed out into space.  Known as a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME), this monster sized cloud many times the size of the Earth is travelling at about 3 million km per hour through interplanetary space and is predicted to give a glancing blow to Earth on Thursday, June 9th. 

 

Depending on how our planet’s magnetic field is oriented at the time of impact we may get a better than average chance of seeing a light show in the skies above.  According to reports on Spaceweather.com, scientists are forecasting at least a 30% chance of auroras occuring in higher latitude skies and around a 20% chance for mid-latitudes.  That means folks around the Arctic Circle will have the best hope of seeing something but if you live in darker areas outside of more southern cities you may have a chance .Our ability to predict these displays is still in its infancy and we just are not sure how intense the CME will be when it gets here – so it may very well be worth taking a peek outside.

When to look up?  Best time to see auroras is usually around local midnight when the sky gets its darkest. Face the northern sky and look low towards the horizon – that’s where you might see the first hints of a ghostly glow. If it ends up being an intense display then a larger portion of the sky may get enveloped with colours of orange, pink and purple curtains waving in the overhead sky. 

Also you might want to try and take a  photo of the auroras. All you need is a standard DSLR digital camera that allows you to adjust your exposure rate manually anywhere from 5 to 20 seconds. Set the camera up on a tripod with an ASA around 400 and timer for 2 to 10 seconds between shots so that you have a steady photo without any shaking.

While there are no guarantees we will see somthing – the only way to know for sure is to go outside and look for yourself.  Clear Skies!

About National Geographic Society

The National Geographic Society is a global nonprofit organization that uses the power of science, exploration, education and storytelling to illuminate and protect the wonder of the world. Since 1888, National Geographic has pushed the boundaries of exploration, investing in bold people and transformative ideas, providing more than 14,000 grants for work across all seven continents, reaching 3 million students each year through education offerings, and engaging audiences around the globe through signature experiences, stories and content. To learn more, visit www.nationalgeographic.org or follow us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

Meet the Author

Andrew Fazekas
Andrew Fazekas, aka The Night Sky Guy, is a science writer, broadcaster, and lecturer who loves to share his passion for the wonders of the universe through all media. He is a regular contributor to National Geographic News and is the national cosmic correspondent for Canada’s Weather Network TV channel, space columnist for CBC Radio network, and a consultant for the Canadian Space Agency. As a member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Andrew has been observing the heavens from Montreal for over a quarter century and has never met a clear night sky he didn’t like.