Aurora borealis Michigan: Severe solar storm will make northern lights visible in Michigan

Geomagnetic storms are major disturbances in the Earth’s magnetosphere caused by energy from solar winds. Severe storms can occur after a coronal mass ejection, when the sun expels tons of plasma and magnetic fields. In its announcement Thursday, NOAA said at least five “earth directed” CMEs had been observed.

That’s in addition to several strong solar flares that are associated with a “large and magnetically complex” sunspot cluster 16 times the diameter of the Earth, the agency said.

Since the solar cycle began in 2019, there have been only three severe geomagnetic storms. The storm can cause widespread disruption to power grids, spacecraft and radio communications.

The solar storm could “induce an electrical current that is not supposed to be there,” said Robert Steenburg, space scientist at the Space Weather Prediction Center in Colorado during a press call Friday. “Our role is to alert the operators of these different systems so that they’re aware and can take actions to mitigate these kinds of impacts.”

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The northern lights, or aurora borealis, produce an ethereal light show that is typically limited to regions a bit closer to the northern and southern poles. But geomagnetic storms can cause the lights to be seen in places closer to the equator, depending on the intensity of the storm.

The phenomenon is expected to be visible starting late Friday and early Saturday. Typically, the northern lights are visible in northern Michigan and areas closer North. However, the severity of the storm will make it visible in areas as far south as Alabama.

The northern lights are most visible in the night sky, so optimal hours for viewing them are after 10 p.m., according to Michigan Technological University, with many experts suggesting waiting until after midnight.

“We’re less certain on the timing of these events because we’re talking about something from 93 million miles away,” said Shawn Dahl, service coordinator for the Space Weather Prediction Center, during a press call.

“That’s extremely difficult to forecast, with a very good degree of accuracy the arrival of these events, because there’s so many things that go on, in what we call the solar wind … but this one we have a very high confidence level of an arrival on Earth. It’s just less certain on the timing.”

Its high northern latitudes and its unobstructed view from the southern coast of Lake Superior make the Upper Peninsula one of the best places in the U.S. mainland to catch aurora borealis.

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