Grab a warm coat and get ready to travel away from artificial lights. Thanks to the biggest solar flare we have observed in a decade, people at the northernmost and southernmost latitudes might experience an extraordinary spectacle.
According to NOAA's aurora forecast service, the Northern Lights might be visible to more southern latitudes than they usually are, due to the particular strength of the solar flare. Still, it's unclear if the coronal mass ejection (CME) released by the flare will inundate our planet with charged particles or not. Pretty much, the chance of seeing the aurora depends on when and if this solar material will hit the atmosphere.
“The problem with the next CME is that we will be just on the edge of it," Rodney Viereck from the Space Weather Prediction Center at NOAA told IFLScience. "A small error in the size and direction estimates will have a big impact on how big a storm we will get. Thus, it is hard to say how big the geomagnetic storm will be."
So what do you need in order to see the aurorae? Well, you need to be in the right part of the world and have a dark sky. The darker the better. Other than that, you don’t need special equipment. The Northern Lights are visible to the naked eye. If you want to try and capture them on camera, a tripod and a long exposure camera are a must.
If you're already well-versed in aurora watching, you might be interested to know that the Kp index is forecasted to reach six tomorrow and seven on Saturday. This means the aurora might be visible as low as Chicago and the North of England.
After asking about our chances of seeing the Northern Lights from our London office, Viereck replied: “Yes, it is remotely possible that there may be a chance to see aurora from London, but the timing of the arrival of the coronal mass ejection (CME) must be just right (near local midnight in the UK), the storm must be as big or bigger than G3 (Kp = 7), and you will need a clear view to the north, right down to the horizon (no clouds, hills or trees).”
“If we get a big storm it will likely be visible from the northern parts of the UK, but it may not make it as far south as London.”
Check the maps to see if you’re in or near a good spot. And for all you aurora hunters out there, we wish you a dark and clear sky.