Aurora borealis could dazzle skies in northern United States this week

A brilliant display of auroras could grace northern skies Wednesday through Friday after the sun shot off several waves of energy toward Earth earlier this week. Activity is expected to peak Thursday into Friday as a strong geomagnetic storm, rated G3, reaches Earth.

A strong G3 storm “does bring the northern lights down into the United States,” said Bill Murtagh, the program coordinator at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Space Weather Prediction Center.

He said sky gazers could see the dancing light display from New England across the Great Lakes into northwest Oregon and Washington state.

On Wednesday, sky watchers in the Upper Midwest and New England may be seeing too much cloud cover to get a good view of the aurora. 

On Thursday, when the geomagnetic storm is expected to be at its strongest, scattered cloud cover still looks likely across parts of the northern tier of the country, although much of Montana, Michigan, New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island are all forecast to have mostly clear skies.

Auroras are created when the sun sends a burst of energy and particles toward Earth through solar flares, coronal mass ejections or solar wind streams.

 Some of the solar particles collide with Earth’s magnetosphere and travel down the magnetic field lines into Earth’s upper atmosphere, where they can excite nitrogen and oxygen molecules and release photons of light — creating displays known as the northern lights.

In this case, several coronal mass ejections (CMEs), or large expulsions of plasma and magnetic material from the sun, were created in a particularly active region of the sun over the past few days.