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.
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.)
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.