If you live in a northern state like Maine, Michigan, or Alaska, your chance of catching a glimpse of the Northern Lights tonight, March 14th, is high. Tonight’s aurora will be brighter than normal, and that’s because of the monster solar storm happening today and lasting until tomorrow. How do the Northern Lights correlate with a solar storm? The two are actually directly related.
Normal auroras — either happening near the north pole (Aurora Borealis) or the south pole (Aurora Australis) — occur when Earth’s magnetic field pulls charged particles from the sun toward its poles. Solar wind can affect these particles in Earth’s atmosphere and causes a greenish glowing effect — aka the Northern or Southern Lights.
But when a solar storm is thrown into the equation, that solar wind can trigger a geomagnetic storm, according to Space.com. A geomagnetic storm can mess with power grids and radio frequencies here on Earth, and can also throw off satellites in orbit. But these kinds of amplified storms can also intensify the auroras, which is exactly what will happen tonight.
In fact, the auroras can become so intense that lower latitude areas, like our northern-most states, will be able to see the natural light show when normally they can’t.
Oddly enough, we have the sun to thank for one of Earth’s greatest nighttime spectacles.
Now when you and your friends head outside tonight to see if you can spot the Lights in action, you can school them with all this science. But while you’re schooling, don’t forget to enjoy the show.