A shimmering aurora – or northern lights – was seen at lower latitudes than expected last night (night of July 14, 2012). Spaceweather.com says it has gotten reports of sightings as far south as California, Colorado, Missouri, Utah, Wisconsin, Iowa, Oregon, Illinois, Nebraska, and Arkansas. On EarthSky’s Facebook page, we’ve also had photos from various northern states. A few of them are below. Will you see an aurora (northern lights) on the night of Sunday, July 15, 2012? No one knows for sure, but there is a chance. Check the skies periodically after dark. Look north, especially if you’re at a more southerly latitude.
And, no matter how wonderful it is, the aurora isn’t the only outstanding thing to see in tonight’s sky. People all over the world are marveling at the array of planets and stars in the east before dawn. Check out the image below, from master sky photographer Dan Bush of the Missouri Skies website.
The auroras were caused by an X1.4-class solar flare that erupted from giant sunspot group 1520 on July 12, 2012. The sunspot was directly facing Earth when the X-flare occurred. The flare caused a coronal mass ejection (CME), which hit Earth’s magnetic field on July 14 at approximately 18:00 UTC (1 p.m. Central Daylight Time). As a result, Earth’s magnetic field has become unsettled, and auroras are likely over the next few days.
Bottom line: Auroras were seen on the night of July 14-15 into the lower 48 states of the United States, and (presumably) comparable latitudes around the world. An X1.4-class solar flare that erupted from giant sunspot group 1520 on July 12 sent a coronal mass ejection, or CME, directly toward Earth. It has caused the geomagnetic field to become unsettled. Will auroras happen on the night of July 15, too? Will they dip down into more southerly latitudes, such as the northern U.S.? No one knows, but if I were there, I’d check outside periodically tonight on the off chance of seeing a shimmering aurora.
Deborah Byrd created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and EarthSky.org in 1994. Today, she serves as Editor-in-Chief of this website. She has won a galaxy of awards from the broadcasting and science communities, including having an asteroid named 3505 Byrd in her honor. A science communicator and educator since 1976, Byrd believes in science as a force for good in the world and a vital tool for the 21st century. "Being an EarthSky editor is like hosting a big global party for cool nature-lovers," she says.