Auroras Expected To Bubble Up Mid-Week May 16, 17

Photo of the coronal hole that on May 12 when it faced the Earth. In a hole, the sun’s magnetic field folds back and lets loose high speed clouds of subatomic particles than fire up auroras when they arrive at Earth. Credit: NASA/SDO

A solar outburst, called a coronal mass ejection, paired with a high-speed particle blast from a recent coronal hole may liven the sky with auroras both Tuesday and Wednesday nights (May 16-17). Things will get off to a gentle start tomorrow beginning around  nightfall when a minor G1 geomagnetic storm is expected to commence. Typically, the aurora gradually intensifies the closer to midnight (1 a.m. Daylight Time) when the auroral oval, the permanent doughnut ring of aurora centered over Earth’s magnetic pole, sags furthest south.

A faint coronal mass ejection of material from the sun’s atmosphere or corona will also be arriving in our vicinity this week. Credit: NASA/ESA

I would expect that Canada and the tops of the northern states might see tomorrow night’s activity. But it’s Wednesday night (May 17) that has my heart beating faster. Well, a little faster. You know how forecasts are. That evening, we’re expecting a G2 or moderate storm during the same time period. G2 storms can make for lots of excitement in the northern states and even reach down further into the Midwest and Northeast. The last moderate storm occurred on April 22. It was a beauty with a low bright arc and a fine explosion of rays and pillars.

(Update Mon. night: Great news! The latest forecast upgraded Tuesday’s storm to G2 or moderate.)

A double band pierced with dozens of rays reflects off the ice of a lake north of Duluth, Minn. two years ago March. Credit: Bob King

Besides a reasonably dark sky and a northern location, the other key to a successful aurora hunt is patience. If you see a low arc or glow, periodically check it for activity. Is it getting brighter? Higher? Are faint rays starting to form? If you sense that the aurora is intensifying, however little, stick with it. Go on a vigil the way you’d queue up early to see a long-anticipated movie. You may lose some sleep but know there’s a bounty of zzzzzzzzs waiting for you the next cloudy night.

OK … now we wait.