Tips for spotting the northern lights, from an aurora devotee – Minnesota Public Radio News

Labour Day weekend this year could include a light show, depending where you live and what the weather is like in the next couple of days.

Those who live in northern parts of our country are accustomed to the sight, but this weekend, even people living in the Northern U.S. to take a look at aurora borealis.

“As a result of recent geomagnetic storm activity, the photogenic sights will be widely visible across much of the southern half of Canada and as far south as several northern U.S. States,” said a story Friday from The Weather Network. 

The information comes from the U.S.-based National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which is forecasting the light show for Saturday and Sunday.

The most optimal time to view the aurora is a couple hours before or after midnight under a clear, dark sky, the story said.

“Whether or not Canadians in the southern parts of the country will see it depends on their location and weather conditions at the time of the displays.”

The Northern Lights occur when electrically charged material from sun flares are blown by solar wind into space and collide with gaseous particles in the Earth's atmosphere, lighting up when they come into contact with the magnetic fields at the North and South poles. 

Spacecraft monitoring eruptions from the sun look for the flares, which take between one and three days to reach Earth.

Variations in colour are due to the type of gas particles that are colliding. The most common colour is a pale yellowish-green produced by oxygen molecules located above the Earth. Rare, all-red auroras are produced by high-altitude oxygen, at heights of up to 200 miles. Nitrogen produces blue or purplish-red aurora. 

You might want to look up over the Labor Day weekend. The northern lights, also known as the aurora borealis, will be visible this weekend in parts of several northern US states, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The Earth’s most spectacular natural light show, forecast for Saturday and Sunday, is a result of geomagnetic storm activity, the agency said. The auroras could illuminate the the skies over parts of the states  of Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin, New York, Vermont, and Maine.

Getting a jump start on this weekend’s #aurora – reports coming in from ME, VT and the great lakes regions. Should be more tonight and tomorrow night. Here’s the NLN clock showing when to expect G1 and G2 storming. Should be best tomorrow evening. pic.twitter.com/PHuj4JiMCl

Aurora watchers can view the interactive map maintained by the Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska Fairbanks for updated aurora forecast.

According to National Geographic, a monster-sized hole in the solar corona — the upper atmosphere of the sun — cracked open this week. The activity released an intense gust of charged particles called the solar wind, which has been speeding through the inner solar system at two million miles an hour, with Earth in the center of its path.

The racing cloud is now expected to lash Earth between August 31 and September 1, and when it smashes into Earth, the collision will cause a geomagnetic storm, a temporary disturbance of the our planet’s magnetic field.

The electrons in the solar wind will also accelerate as they follow the lines of Earths magnetic field to the planets poles, where they will “careen into air molecules and spark auroras,” National Geographic said.

Though they may be visible further south than usual, the best locations where the aurora borealis is more likely to be visible will still be in the most northern parts of the US close to the border with Canada.

The best time to see the aurora — commonly seen as green but could range from pink to purple glows — is a few hours before or after midnight with a clear, dark sky creating the best conditions.

Some ideal locations in the US to see the predicted light show include Headlands International Dark Sky Park in Michigan, the Voyageurs National Park in Minnesota, and Glacier National Park in Montana.

If you’re planning to photograph this weekend’s northern lights, it’s recommended that you use a manual camera, use a tripod, and use as wide an angle lens as you have. Writing in Forbes, Jamie Carter, author of A Stargazing Program for Beginners: A Pocket Field Guide, also recommends keeping the flash off and using a remote shutter cable to prevent the camera from moving.