Mother’s Day auroras? Northern lights show may continue tonight — where will it be visible this time

The aurora lights may become visible over much of the northern half of the United States, “may be as far south as Alabama to north California”.

Akriti Anand
Updated12 May 2024
Northern lights or aurora borealis illuminate the night sky near London, Ontario, during a geomagnetic storm on May 10, 2024.
Northern lights or aurora borealis illuminate the night sky near London, Ontario, during a geomagnetic storm on May 10, 2024. (AFP)

The skies may light up again with dancing auroras lights on the night of May 12 (Sunday) – when the world celebrates Mother's Day. The NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) warned of "severe to extreme geomagnetic storming" later on Sunday.

"Several coronal mass ejections (CMEs) are anticipated to merge and arrive at Earth on May 12th," the space weather prediction center said in its update.

CMEs are powerful solar eruptions or large expulsions of plasma and magnetic fields from the Sun's corona. The major geomagnetic storms are induced by coronal mass ejections (CMEs). Observing the ejection of CMEs from the Sun provides an early warning of geomagnetic storms.

ALSO READ: Northern lights spotted in Kerala? Netizens react to hilarious post on social media

"A positive aspect of geomagnetic storms, from an aesthetic point of view, is that the Earth's auroras are enhanced," the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) explained.

Where will auroras be visible this time?

The Space Weather Prediction Centre informed that the aurora may become visible over much of the northern half of the United States, "may be as far south as Alabama to north California".

ALSO READ: Northern Lights visible in India? Aurora borealis may glitter tonight in this state

Meanwhile, Bill Murtagh, program coordinator for NOAA's SWPC, told Space.com, "If everything couples right, we could certainly see the sky lit up again.

"We're expecting a decent impact from the CME [coronal mass ejection on Sunday]... It was just a little bit further from the limb [edge] of the sun, but still good enough that it should give us a good hit," Murtagh was quoted as saying.

Some negative aspects of geomagnetic storms include irregularities to power grids, degradation to GPS and high-frequency communications.

Earlier on May 10, plasma from coronal mass ejection slammed into Earth, sparking an intense geomagnetic storm. As a result, supercharged northern lights were witnessed in much of the US, Russia, Ukraine, Germany, Slovenia, Britain and other regions around the world. According to reports, the most powerful solar storm in more than two decades had struck Earth on Friday, May 10.

What are auroras and how are they formed?

NASA defines auroras as "brilliant ribbons of light weaving across Earth's northern or southern polar regions".

How are they formed? To simply put it – The northern lights are created when energised particles from the sun collide with Earth's upper atmosphere at speeds of up to 45 million mph (72 million kph), but our planet's magnetic field protects us from the onslaught, Space.com reported.

Meanwhile, NASA explained that these natural light shows are caused by magnetic storms that have been triggered by solar activity, such as solar flares (explosions on the Sun) or coronal mass ejections (ejected gas bubbles).

Energetic charged particles from these events are carried from the Sun by the solar wind. As the solar wind approaches Earth, it meets Earth’s magnetic field.

Now, in the ionosphere, the ions of the solar wind collide with atoms of oxygen and nitrogen from Earth’s atmosphere. As these air particles shed the energy they picked up from the collision, each atom starts to glow in a different colour.

Most auroras happen about 97-1,000 kilometres (60-620 miles) above Earth’s surface.

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