11PM Sunday update: The solar storm has weakened considerably. Chances for Northern Lights in RI and Southeast Massachusetts is very low.
We have another storm on the way. Before you get the raincoats ready and put the umbrella by the door, this is not a rain storm. This one could be a really good storm. A solar storm is headed our way and we have the opportunity to see the Northern Lights here in New England. Of course the weather will need to cooperate to see this spectacle, but we’ll get into that a little bit later.
We’ve had a number of chances to see the Northern Lights in recent years. Folks in Northern New England usually had the best chance of seeing the lights, and only someone with a trained eye could pick up the faint lights in the sky over Southern New England during the last few chances. We don’t get many chances to see the lights in Rhode Island, mostly due to our position on the Earth and the amount of light pollution in our sky (from city lights). Every once in awhile we get an opportunity to see the Aurora, and our next decent chance is Sunday night.
The Sun has been fairly quiet as of late…there haven’t been many sun spots on our star. Sun spots often help create explosions on the sun which can sometimes send streams of charged particles out into space. When these charged particles hit the Earth’s atmosphere, the Aurora Borealis can form. A large sun spot labeled 2665 recently came into view (above) and a solar flare helped hurl energetic particles into space, called a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME). Watch the explosion on the sun in this coronagraph video from the National Weather Service (below).
These particles are expected to reach Earth Sunday night and early Monday, creating the Northern Lights. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued a Geomagnetic Storm Watch for Sunday night. The storm could be of moderate strength. Sometimes, these solar storms can affect communication satellites and power grids, but this storm will likely not be strong enough for that.
If you’d like to see the Northern Lights, you’d be better off heading north in central and Northern New England. The farthest south NOAA space weather forecasters expect the lights to be seen is southern Vermont and New Hampshire. So, if you’re on vacation in Northern New England you have a good chance of seeing the Aurora! In Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut, find the darkest sky you can and look north.
When you are outside looking for the lights, let your eyes adjust to the darkness. The longer you stay outside the better. If you are going to be taking pictures, take long exposure pictures; that is leave your camera’s shutter open.
Of course, we’ll need clear skies to see the Northern Lights and there could be some low clouds around but skies should cooperate.
-Meteorologist T.J. Del Santo
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