Will the Northern Lights be visible in the Tri-Cities?

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(WJHL)- Parts of the United States have the chance to see the Northern Lights the next few nights. The SWPC issued a G3 Geomagnetic Storm Watch for Thursday, Dec 10th.

Forecast visibility of Northern Lights for Thursday. The yellow line on the map is the likely farthest location where the Northern Lights may be observed.

What about here in the Tri-Cities? Unfortunately, the chances are extremely low, but they exist. Dr. Gary Henson from the department of Physics and Astronomy at ETSU says the first rule in aurora watching is to know just how unpredictable they can be. Factors like timing, location, and weather will be key.

Timing will be a very important factor. Dr. Henson says, “The “cloud” of energetic particles that sweeps by the Earth usually only does that for a few hours and must happen typically in the early evening for the auroras to show up at night for the eastern US.”

As far as location, you need to be able to see low on the northern horizon. You would need to be in a very dark location where light pollution is not around and of course the less clouds the better.

“I’ve been in the area for 30 years and have only been able to see 3 aurora events. Only two of those were impressive, but they were indeed impressive!” Dr. Henson says. He adds that in both of those events, the storm was rated at G4 level. The maximum for this event is a G3.

Thursday, December 10 has the highest Geomagnetic Storm Index value of a G3.

What causes the Northern Lights to be viewed farther south? A solar coronal mass ejection (CME) occurred on December 7th. CMEs are where near a billion tons of plasma from the sun arrive at Earth. This causes a major disturbance of Earth’s magnetosphere and produces the spectacular aurora. 

Space Weather Prediction Center forecasters are confident in the CME time of arrival at Earth, but the intensity is less certain. 

Thanks to the SWPC

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