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UPDATE: Northern Lights may be visible tonight

A strong solar storm has erupted and is headed toward the Earth’s atmosphere
Northern Lights
Northern Lights(WJRT)
Published: Dec. 9, 2020 at 1:22 PM EST|Updated: Dec. 10, 2020 at 11:54 AM EST
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - You may want to save a little time to look up the next few nights. There is the potential the Northern Lights may be seen as far south as Pennsylvania, and in extreme cases, perhaps even across the Mid-Atlantic.

THURSDAY UPDATE: According to the Space Weather Agency, the latest forecast has the highest geomagnetic activity again between 10 pm- 1am ET.

Again, there’s no guarantee, but it’s worth giving a look to the north during that time.

Here are a few viewing tips from NASA JPL astronomy expert Tony Rice:

  • The higher your latitude, the better your chance to see aurora. The lower your latitude the closer it will be to the horizon.
  • Look for a slight green color to the northern horizon.
  • The darker your location, the better your chance to see aurora.
  • If you are south of a big city, light pollution will make it more difficult

Keep in mind that:

  • You are looking at something happening high in the atmosphere over the US/Canadian border.
    • The further south you are, the lower on the horizon that will appear for you
    • Its dim not just because you are far away but because you are looking through a lot of atmosphere, ~38 air masses at the horizon compared to 1 at zenith (directly overhead).

----- ORIGINAL STORY -----

A Coronal Mass Ejection (CMEs) is headed toward the Earth’s atmosphere sometime Wednesday or Thursday. The CMEs are large expulsions of plasma and magnetic field from the Sun’s corona. Once these hit the Earth’s atmosphere they spread out and can often create the Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis.

WHAT IT WOULD TAKE

  • The energy would need to hit the atmosphere at night. If it happens during the day, we don’t see it.
  • Energy would need to be very strong to make the lights visible far enough south to observe here.
  • You’d need to get in a very dark place away from city lights.
  • Be sure to have a great view of the northern horizon.

Typically, photographing them produces better results than the naked eye as you can use a long exposure.

Jason Rinehart, a local astrophotographer, captured the northern lights on camera back in June 2015 from along the Blue Ridge Parkway looking toward the Town of Buchanan.

Northern Lights from the Blue Ridge Parkway

Monday evening's Northern Lights seen from along the Blue Ridge Parkway overlooking the Town of Buchanan. VIDEO: Jason Rinehart is a master at night photography and shows off the Aurora's bright reds and greens. Proof, you've got to be patient to get the good stuff. :)

Posted by Brent Watts WDBJ7 on Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Seeing them locally would be rare event, but it has happened before. Don’t set your expectations too high, but then again, it’s fun to go out do some stargazing while you’re at it.

WHEN TO LOOK

The best time to look will be Wednesday night and Thursday night after sunset until shortly after midnight. However, we will have a better idea on timing as the energy gets closer to Earth.

Follow my Twitter Feed for updates as we get more info.

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