UPDATED JANUARY 25, 2012 3:40 A.M. CST (9:40 UTC) According to Spacewather.com, the anticipated geomagnetic storm caused by Monday’s M8.7-class solar flare and Tuesday’s coronal mass ejection (CME) impact is over. The aurora watch has been cancelled for all but the highest latitudes around the Arctic Circle. Spaceweather.com reports:
As expected, a CME hit Earth’s magnetic field on January 24, 2012 at approximately 1500 UTC (10 a.m. EST). The impact produced a G1-class geomagnetic storm and bright auroras around the Arctic Circle.
There are reports of fabulous displays of the aurora – or northern lights – seen at high latitudes in Europe. Reporting for Associated Press, Karl Ritter and Seth Borenstein say that “experienced stargazers were stunned by the intensity of the aurora borealis that swept across the night sky in northern Scandinavia” during the night of January 24, 2012. The beautiful aurora – or northern lights – had been expected after a large solar flare on the sun earlier this week.
In the AP story, British astronomer John Mason from the deck of the MS Midnatsol, a cruise ship plying the fjord-fringed coast of northern Norway, was quoted as saying:
It has been absolutely incredible.
Stargazers were out in force in northern Europe on Tuesday, hoping to be awed by a spectacular showing of northern lights after the powerful solar storm. Read the Associated Press story here.
JANUARY 24, 2012 8:15 A.M. CST (14:15 UTC) Yesterday, space weather experts reported that the strongest solar radiation storm in 7 years will strike Earth today. In fact, by the time you read this, it’s likely the leading edge of the solar storm will have already struck. There is no danger to us on Earth’s surface, but lucky individuals will witness one of nature’s grandest spectacles – the beautiful aurora – also known in the Northern Hemisphere as the northern lights. Experts are saying the aurora will be seen at lower latitudes than usual. Will you see it?
Although nature can be unpredictable, and no one ever knows with 100% certainty where and when the aurora will appear, this article will give you some idea. Not sure what an aurora looks like? Play the beautiful video below, from Bruce McAdam on Flickr, then keep reading!
What time should I look for the January 24, 2012 aurora? The leading edge of the stream of charged particles – known as a coronal mass ejection, or CME – was predicted to reach Earth on January 24 at 8 a.m. CST, or 14 UTC (+/- 7 hours). You must see the aurora at nighttime, of course, so you will want to look in a night sky, as soon as possible after the CME arrives. For us in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and the Americas, that will be the evening of January 24.
How far south will the January 24, 2012 aurora be seen? Look at the image above. It’s from the NOAA Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite (POES) image, updated continually as this satellite monitors the protons and electrons that produce aurorae in Earth’s atmosphere.
According to the Geophysical Institute at University of Alaska Fairbanks, tonight’s aurora should be visible overhead throughout most of Alaska. That means those of us at lower latitudes have a shot at the aurora tonight, too, and it means that those at latitudes lower than Alaska need to look in the northern sky.
What if you live at an even lower latitude than what is indicated on the POES map? Take heart! This is nature, and nature is never entirely predictable.
What special sky conditions are required to see tonight’s aurora? To see the aurora, you’ll need a nice clear sky with no obscuring clouds. It’s also good to have no moon, which, luckily, is what we have tonight. The moon is traveling across the sky with the sun today and won’t be visible again until tomorrow night (January 25, 2012) when, by the way, it’ll be spectacularly beautiful near Venus in the west after sunset. Finally, you should do yourself a favor and ride half an hour or so beyond the lights of the city to view tonight’s aurora. You might be able to glimpse it from within the city, but more likely city lights will drown the aurora from view.
What about the aurora australis in the Southern Hemisphere? Yes, there are southern light, the wonderful aurora australis. As you can see from the map above, though, it’s mainly seen in Antarctica.
Bottom line: The strongest solar radiation storm in 7 years will strike Earth on January 24, 2012. There is no danger to us on Earth’s surface, but lucky individuals will see the beautiful aurora – also known in the Northern Hemisphere as the northern lights. Experts are saying the aurora will be seen at lower latitudes than usual.
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.