You may have heard on the news that there is a possibility for the Northern Lights, or the Aurora Borealis, to be visible here in Connecticut over the next few nights. It’s true! There’s something really interesting going on between the Sun and Earth right now, and it might make for a fantastic display over the next couple of evenings.
The creation of the Aurora Borealis begins with sunspots, little brown freckles on the surface of the Sun. These spots are caused when loops of electromagnetic energy get twisted and burst through the surface of our “mother star.” When a sunspot is visible, the electromagnetic energy is still under the control of the Sun’s gravity. But the Sun cannot hold onto it forever, so a sunspot can sometimes turn into a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME), at which point the Sun ejects the energy and sends it hurling out into the solar system. Many times, these CMEs can steer clear of Earth, but when they head our way, they can collide and interact with the electromagnetic field of our home planet. This collision will cause the shimmering curtains of green, blue, and sometimes purple light that we call the Aurora Borealis!
Since Earth’s electromagnetic energy is concentrated at our poles, the Aurora is always most likely to appear at the highest of latitudes. The larger the CME, the more likely it is that the Aurora could be visible at lower latitudes. Well, this CME is definitely on the bigger side, meaning there is a possibility that the Northern Lights could be dazzling across our night sky tonight and/or tomorrow night!
The best time of night to view the Aurora Borealis in Connecticut will be between 10 p.m. and 1 a.m. on both nights, December 9-10. It is best viewed if you can reach an area without many artificial lights, so its is best to avoid street lights and parking lots if you can. You’ll want to look North towards Polaris, the North Star, since this event will be forming in the polar region. Weather will also play a role in the next few nights. Today (Wednesday) we are looking at clouds clearing hopefully between 10-11 p.m.. Tomorrow night looks very clear right now. For more information on this event and on solar activity in general, here is a great online resource: https://www.spaceweather.com/
This news post was written by Brian Koehler, supervisor of the Museum’s Treworgy Planetarium.