A massive solar flare on the Sun that on Monday hurled plasma and charged particles into space could mean naked eye Northern Lights in northern US states during late evening on Wednesday, March 30 and into early morning on Thursday, March 31, 2022, according to a tweet by the Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC).
How strong will the aurora be?
Part of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the SWPC is suggesting that the Monday’s coronal mass ejection (CME) on the Sun could mean a G2-class geomagnetic storm—rated as “moderate”—but with a Kp index of up to 6 at its strongest.
That’s good. “Kp” is a measure the strength of geomagnetic storms. Usually the SWPC issues warnings when it’s predicting Kp 5 or more.
When will the aurora be strongest?
The SWPC’s breakdown includes a prediction that Kp 6 activity will happen between 03:00 and 06:00 Universal Time on March 31, which translates to between 10:00 p.m. and 01:00 a.m. EDT on March 30/March 31.
Where will the aurora be strongest?
SpaceWeather.com is reporting that naked-eye auroras could be visible the US as far south as geomagnetic latitude 55o, which likely means northern areas of Idaho, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, New York, North Dakota, Washington, Wisconsin, and Vermont.
Where to go to see the aurora
The best advice for seeing the aurora is to get yourself to a place with a dark northern horizon. They will likely appear as a “forest fire” band of green low in the northern sky.
Good place to see the aurora might include Idaho Panhandle National Forest, Acadia National Park in Maine and Headlands International Dark Sky Park, Michigan, according to my colleague Valerie Stimac on SpaceTourismGuide.com.
However it also states that the storm might be stronger than predicted and that it could be followed-up by more auroras because the sunspot that hurled the CME towards Earth has since exploded a whopping 17 times. As a results at least two more CMEs are headed towards Earth and could cause auroras on April 1, 2022.
Why auroras are strongest around the equinoxes
It comes at a good time because aurora—which are the result of the interaction of space weather with Earth’s magnetic fields —are known to be even stronger around the equinoxes. Around the equinoxes Earth’s North and South Poles point perpendicular to the direction of the Sun and its magnetic field so the solar wind more efficiently accelerates down the field lines of Earth’s magnetosphere.
The last equinox was on March 20.
How to photograph the aurora
If you get clear skies you may seen something greenish in the night sky. However, a camera will likely see a whole lot more. You’ll need a manual DSLR or mirrorless camera that allows you to manipulate the ISO, aperture and the shutter speed (go for infinity focus, a low f/ number, ISO 1600, for about 15-20 seconds).
By increasing the camera’s sensitivity, how much light it lets in, and the length of your exposure it’s possible to create beautiful images of the Northern Lights even if you don’t yourself get incredible views.
Shoot in RAW so you can post-process them in Photoshop or whatever post-processing software you use to accentuate what you capture.
How to photograph the aurora with a smartphone
You can also try capturing them using the “night mode” on your smartphone, but to do that you will need a tripod—or something to keep your camera completely still for up to 30 seconds.
Wishing you clear skies and wide eyes.