Northern Lights possible again Monday night - WNEM TV 5

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Northern Lights possible again Monday night

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Ultraviolet image of the Sun, depicting a solar eruption that occurred Thursday, July 13. Source: NASA Ultraviolet image of the Sun, depicting a solar eruption that occurred Thursday, July 13. Source: NASA

Scattered reports of Northern Lights sighting came in on Sunday night, and the show might not be over yet!

What causes the Northern Lights in the first place?

In addition to our atmosphere, Earth is surrounded by a field of magnetic energy that is generated within the planet's core. This field creates a protective shield of sorts around our planet, deflecting away most of the harmful, energized particles that constantly radiate away from the Sun. In some cases, solar particles become electrified with they interact with our magnetic field and begin to glow. This glow is what we know as an aurora or the Northern (Southern) Lights.

Due to the orientation of the field, this happens most often in the Arctic and Antarctic regions of our planet, where the magnetic field lines cluster more closely together. Depending on the type of particle, the glowing atoms appear in different colors when electrified. For example, oxygen atoms tend to produce green or yellow colors while nitrogen tends to glow red, blue or violet.

What brings the Lights farther south (or north)?

Like Earth and most of the planets of our solar system, the Sun has a magnetic field of its own. Unlike Earth's however, the Sun's magnetic field is dramatically more unstable and in a constant state of flux. At times, regions of tremendous magnetic energy can build up on the surface of the Sun, manifesting in what we sometimes observe as sunspots.

Similar to volcanoes here on Earth, when enough energy builds up within a sunspot, it can erupt and launch enormous streams of energized particles into Space. These eruptions are known as solar flares. If a sunspot happens to be facing toward Earth when an eruption occurs, the blasted material can exert a tremendous impact on our magnetic field and disrupt its orientation. The increased bombardment also results in more particles becoming electrified, and can result in aurora sightings much farther away from Earth's polar regions.

The Lights are actually a small part of the potential impacts solar eruptions can have here on Earth. In extreme cases, solar bombardments can result in damage to power grids, disruptions to satellites and cellular signals, and even an increase in harmful radiation reaching the ground.

Monday Night

Late Thursday evening, an enormous Earth-facing sunspot produced a high-powered solar flare. The eruption lasted for nearly 2 hours, ejecting a tremendous amount of solar particles toward our planet. The arriving blast did produce some scattered reports of aurora sightings on Sunday night, particularly in northern regions of the state.

Lingering effects of the solar eruption are expected to continue tonight, meaning the Northern Lights may again be visible in some areas. Best viewing is likely to shift a bit farther north since we are past peak intensity, but it should still be worth a look. Get to a dark area away from light pollution with a clear view of the northern sky, around or shortly after midnight.

Generally clear skies are expected to prevail, so we should at least have that working in our favor. Temperatures overnight will slip in the upper 50s and low 60s.

Good luck!

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