(NEXSTAR) – Residents living in northern U.S. states may have a chance to see the northern lights Tuesday night, according to current forecasts, but it’s unlikely to get as far south as Utah.
But don’t give up hope. We could be seeing them more often over the next two years.
Tuesday could be the second night in less than two weeks that the northern states could spot the auroras, though they likely won’t be as strong as those caused by a geomagnetic storm last week.
That event was sparked by a coronal mass ejection and a minor solar flare that activated a geomagnetic storm watch. It also sent the northern lights flowing across the night skies as far south as Alabama and northern California.
Coronal mass ejections, or CMEs, are explosions of plasma and magnetic material from the sun that can reach Earth in as little as 15 to 18 hours, NOAA explains. Solar flares and CMEs (which can occur at the same time) can impact navigation, communication and radio signals on Earth, and CMEs are able to create a stunning show in the night sky. According to NASA, CMEs can create currents in Earth’s magnetic fields that send particles to the North and South Poles. When those particles interact with oxygen and nitrogen, they can create auroras.
Another CME was forecasted to impact Earth on Sunday, with NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center forecasting a low likelihood of aurora-viewing across the northern U.S., from Washington then east to Michigan and New York.
Viewing chances are forecasted to be at a similar level Tuesday night, according to NOAA. As of Tuesday morning, NOAA predicted the southern extent of the auroras — depicted by the red line on the image below — could reach as far south as southern Minnesota and Wisconsin, as well as the northern portions of Maine, New York and Idaho. The northern lights may also be visible in portions of Washington, Idaho, Montana and South Dakota.
In the lower 48, North Dakota has the best chance to catch the auroras, though NOAA still gave the state a relatively low likelihood.
This is just the latest round of northern lights that have been visible across the northern U.S. this year. It’s all thanks to the sun flipping its magnetic poles, an activity it does over an 11-year period.
“We’re right in the middle of that transition right now, we’re approaching it. When we hit the middle, we call it solar maximum. It’s when we have the most sunspots; it’s when we get the most solar flares and eruptions,” Bill Murtagh, the Program Coordinator for NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center, told Nexstar’s WROC.
CMEs are often seen during this process and have contributed to recent auroras. The stronger those CMEs are, Murtagh explains, the further south the northern lights are visible.
If you haven’t yet had the chance to catch the recent auroras, don’t worry. According to Murtagh, we’re building up to “the solar maximum.”
“We’re expecting it to occur between 2024-25 so essentially stay tuned, there’s more to come.”