According to NASA's Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC), particles from the sun may enter Earth's magnetic field on May 15 and 16 UTC (UTC is not a time zone but a time standard used by astronomers). This corresponds to May 14 and 15 for North America.
The sun goes through a cycle of activity every 11 years. Right now it's in its quiet phase, with few sunspots — if any — on a given day (over the past year the sun has mostly been blank, with no sunspots).
NASA says the recent energy shots from the sun, called Coronal Mass Ejections or CMEs, were weak CMEs. NASA says, however, that the combined strength of the three CMEs should disturb Earths magnetosphere enough to produce northern lights over the next few days.
However, over the past two weeks, we've had a few creep up. And this is good: When the sun is active, we get a better chance of seeing some activity here on Earth.
Geomagnetic storms could bring Northern Lights displays to Tayside and Fife tonight
The northern lights are caused by charged particles that travel along the solar wind and interact with different molecules in our atmosphere. Every so often a sunspot can propel these particles much more quickly toward Earth. Usually, our magnetosphere acts as a shield around the planet, preventing most of the particles from getting in. But every so often, either there's an opening in the magnetic field or a lot of particles are moving quickly and essentially overpower it.
We have a weak rain system moving through Michigan Wednesday into Thursday. I wouldnt get too down that skies will be entirely cloudy. Clouds will likely be patchy.
Sun shoots 3 weak magnetic storms at Earth, may combine for northern lights
On Monday night an opening appeared in our magnetic field that allowed these particles to flow inward. It was a surprise display that thrilled many. They were even seen as far south as Iowa.
If you missed it, good news: the SWPC is forecasting that three coronal mass ejections (CMEs) that released fast-moving particles are heading our way. Though they're not as powerful as some that are associated with solar flares, with any luck, our magnetic field will comply, and those charged particles will enter our magnetic field.
Northern Lights Forecast May 2019: How to See the Aurora This Week
In northern Canada, in places like Yellowknife, Whitehorse or Fort Smith, the northern lights are seen frequently, as they travel along the magnetic field lines on the auroral oval, which is like a donut around the poles. Sometimes the donut shifts farther south, and that allows people farther south to be treated to the light show.
Lets just keep this in the back of our minds for a possible northern lights viewing Wednesday night or Thursday night.
Geomagnetic Storm Headed for Earth Could Mean Auroras Will Be Visible over Parts of U.S.
You could just go outside and look north (though, if you happen to be in the north, it could be south or all around you). Or you can check to see what your chances are of viewing the show in your area.
As I wrote earlier this year, northern lights forecasting has few data points and chances for forecast updates.
The SWPC has a scale called the K Index that measures geomagnetic activity on a scale from 0 to 10. For cities like Edmonton, Calgary and Winnipeg, a K index of 4 (or even lower sometimes) means you'll likely be able to see the northern lights. But for cities like Toronto and Vancouver, you'll need a higher index.
You can check the SWPC's site to find out where the measurement is on the scale. There are also apps available (search "space weather") and also sites like Spaceweather.com and Spaceweatherlive.com.
Forecasters predict Northern Lights displays could be visible over north-east tonight
If you're in a city, try to get away from the lights. Drive a bit north and you increase your chances. Or you can set up a camera to take a 15-second exposure using an ISO of 1600 at f/4 or lower.
TOLEDO, OH (WOIO) – Northern Ohio got a rare treat Monday when the Aurora Borealis painted the night sky in the Toledo area.
Northern Lights could stretch into lower Michigan this week
Remember that these are predictions based on observations, but there's no guarantee. Still, it's better to be prepared and not miss out on the potential of witnessing a truly magnificent sight.
Nicole has an avid interest in all things science. As an amateur astronomer, Nicole can be found looking up at the night sky appreciating the marvels of our universe. She is the editor of the Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada and the author of several books.
Unfortunately clouds are in the forecast for both nights, but a few breaks could give some of us a great view.
To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.
A geomagnetic storm watch is now in effect for Wednesday, May 15, and Thursday, May 16. US space weather forecasters at the NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) expect charged particles from the Sun to wash over the Earth this week. The storm watch comes five days after the Sun released a monstrous Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) of hot gas known as plasma. The SWPC noticed three separate CME events this month, with the first two ready to strike this week.
The forecaster said: “The G1 Minor geomagnetic storm watch is now in effect for both 15 and 16 May, 2019, due to anticipated CME effects.
“The first two CME events are expected to arrive on May 15 and the third is anticipated to arrive the later half of May 16.”
There is some disagreement over when exactly the geomagnetic storm will strike, but May 15 and May 16 are the two most likely dates.
The incoming storm will be a Minor G1 event, which can have a moderate effect on power grids and satellite operations.
On the three day forecast, the SWPC does not expect any “minor or greater” radio blackouts.
A series of three observed Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs) have taken place since 10 May, 2019. The first two CME events are expected to arrive on 15 May and the third CME is anticipated to arrive the later half of 16 May.
Minor geomagnetic storms have, however, been known to confuse migratory animals which rely on the Earth’s magnetic field for navigation.
The SPWC explained: “A geomagnetic storm is a major disturbance of Earth’s magnetosphere that occurs when there is a very efficient exchange of energy from the solar wind into the space environment surrounding Earth.
“These storm result from variations in the solar wind that produces major changes in the currents, plasmas and fields in Earth’s magnetosphere.”
Coronal Mass Ejections typically take a few days to reach the Earth but some have been known to take as little as 18 hours.
From power grid fluctuations to full-on tech blackouts, the most common side-effect of geomagnetic storms is the creation of aurora near the north and south poles.
Aurora near the north pole – the Northern Lights – are created when solar winds excite particles of oxygen and nitrogen in the atmosphere to the point where they give off light.
Tomorrow and on Thursday, the SWPC expects aurora effects to extend down south to the northernmost US states.
The SWPC said: “While the storms create beautiful aurora, they also can disrupt navigation systems such as the Global Navigation Satellite System and create harmful geomagnetic induced currents in the power grid and pipelines.”