The Northern Lights May Be Visible Over the U.S. Tonight. Here's How to See It.
The northern lights won't be visible over all of the US, but many states across the north are in for a treat the night of February 27. The Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) has issued a G1 geomagnetic storm...
The northern lights won't be visible over all of the US, but many states across the north are in for a treat the night of February 27. The Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) has issued a G1 geomagnetic storm alert for that evening due to the influence of coronal hole high-speed stream, which can push the northern lights further south than it might otherwise appear.
There will be other reasons to look up that night as well. Mercury will be at its closest approach to Earth for the year and can be seen in the western sky just after sundown. That's about the same time you should be out aurora hunting if you're in the right part of the country.
The SWPC, part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), shared the map above to highlight the areas where the aurora might reach. The green line represents the southern edge of that zone. That means, should the weather cooperate, you could see the display in parts of Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Maine. Additionally, you should be able to spot it throughout Canada outside of small parts of southern Ontario, Quebec, and British Columbia.
Of course, the aurora should also be visible in Alaska, but that's nothing new. Parts of Alaska are among the best spots to go searching for the aurora.
This video shows the aurora borealis over the Mackinac Bridge in Michigan in early 2018 following a G1 watch. Under these circumstances, you might not have the brilliant, well-defined ribbons of bright light you'll find in, say, Iceland, but it's still absolutely worth seeing. (For a good example of well-defined streaks of light, check out this crazy "Dragon Aurora" spotted in Iceland earlier this year.)
How To See the Northern Lights
The SWPC's 3-Day Forecast has the alert running from 5-11pm EST on February 27. It will be too bright at the start of the window for you to get a glimpse of the show. However, once the sun has fully set, you could have a great opportunity to see the display up until the end of that time frame as things currently stand. (That means the further west you travel, the smaller your opening will be.)
To get a view of the bucket list spectacle, you need to get away from the light pollution of any urban center. An SWPC representative previously told Thrillist, "You need very clear skies, a good view of the northern horizon (no trees, buildings, or hills), and it needs to be dark." The view is necessary because, outside of far-north regions, the lights will largely appear on the northern horizon rather than directly overhead.
It's the middle of winter, so you'll have to do your best not to turn into Bumble amid record snowfall through much of the zone highlighted in the map above. Nonetheless, it's useful to be outside for a while (or as long as you can stand it). Your eyes need time to adjust to the darkness to get the best view of the night sky.
If you read here with any frequency, you know the northern lights appear across the northern part of the country from time to time. However, getting the circumstances just right isn't all that common. (Not to mention that we are currently near solar minimum in the solar cycle, which makes it less likely to be treated to sightings like this.) To get the perfect combination of cooperative space weather and clear skies is as good a reason as any to get outside and enjoy the crackling beauty of the northern lights.