A strong geomagnetic storm may cause the Northern Lights to be visible in the continental U.S. again Friday in states like New York, Wisconsin and Washington, causing the aurora to be “quite bright and active” to observers.

Key Facts

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association announced a geomagnetic storm watch for Friday caused by a coronal mass ejection—an eruption of solar material—which occurred Tuesday.

NOAA labeled the geomagnetic storm as a ”Strong” G3 storm, meaning it has the potential to affect power grids, satellites and radio frequencies.

If the geomagnetic storm does reach Earth, the aurora borealis could “become dimly visible along the horizon of northern tier and far north upper Midwest states,” according to the NOAA.

Friday night’s aurora borealis previously had a Kp index of four before NOAA bumped it up to a six, meaning the lights will move further from the poles and appear “quite bright and active” to observers under the correct viewing conditions.

Canada and Alaska have a higher chance of seeing the lights, though they may be visible in parts of the continental U.S. into the weekend, according to the aurora’s forecast.

Solar activity has been unusually busy in recent months as the sun’s 11-year solar cycle approaches its anticipated peak between late 2024 and early 2026, with sunspots expected to intensify over the next year, and likely triggering more geomagnetic storms.

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Where Will The Northern Lights Be Visible Tonight?

Though it’s difficult to pinpoint where exactly the lights will be visible, NOAA offers a forecast with a potential viewline (see below). States within the viewline include Washington, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and parts of New York, Vermont and Maine.

What’s The Best Way To See The Northern Lights?

The lights are the most active between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. For the best views of the Northern Lights, NOAA advises traveling as close to the poles as possible, avoiding city lights and other light pollution, monitoring weather forecasts for prime viewing conditions and finding a position on a vantage point like a hilltop. Smartphone cameras are sensitive enough to pick up the aurora, even when it’s invisible to the naked eye. Visit Iceland, a tourist website for Iceland, where the lights are often visible, advises turning on night mode is best to increase smartphone camera exposure.

Key Background

An event called Solar Cycle 25—the cycle the sun goes through around every 11 years—has been the cause of geomagnetic storms that have resulted in recent sightings of the Northern Lights, and NASA predicts it will continue into next year. Cycle 25 began in December 2019, and it’s estimated it will reach its maximum—when activity is expected to peak—between late 2024 and early 2026. It’s projected to peak with 115 sunspots, which are where geomagnetic storms originate. Although the maximum hasn’t happened yet, the sun’s activity has been busier than scientists anticipated, so it’s possible there will be even more geomagnetic storms leading up to 2026, though it’s difficult to predict exactly when the storms will occur.

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