Because the Sun experienced the biggest solar flare in four years yesterday, New Yorkers may get to see the Northern Lights tonight or, possibly, tomorrow night.
One side of the Sun suddenly expelled a large amount of plasma yesterday at 1:41 a.m. ET. The plasma then cooled and collapsed back into the star by virtue of its enormous gravitational pull. The resulting geomagnetic storm will likely cause increased displays of the Northern Lights.
In fact, the Geophysical Institute of the University of Alaska Fairbanks is predicting higher than normal auroral activity tonight for a large chunk of North America. Although aurora borealis, or the Northern Lights, is rarely seen below the upper reaches of Upstate New York, the strength of this solar flare could make it visible as far south as Southern Indiana.
Other conditions must be in place for New Yorkers to get a glimpse of the Northern Lights tonight or tomorrow night. We will need a cloudless sky and little moonlight to ensure visibility.
The forecast calls for a clear sky tonight but thunderstorms tomorrow night. The moon phase is a waxing crescent--not optimal but good. The Northern Lights will be visible along the horizon in the North, should all conditions be met.
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In 1859, a huge solar flare resulted in red, green, and purple auroras all over the planet in the predawn darkness--even in tropical zones. The geomagnetic storm was so strong that paper in telegraph machines caught fire and telegraph machines ran without battery power.
No such excitement is in store this time. Yesterday's solar flare made for dramatic images, but it was considered normal activity for the Sun. The resulting radiation storm may cause minor disruptions of GPS systems and power grids, and will likely disrupt radio frequencies at the poles, but NOAA is not expecting significant problems in day-to-day business.