Promise for Northern Lights over Illinois diminishes with ‘weak’ flare

SHARE Promise for Northern Lights over Illinois diminishes with ‘weak’ flare

Out of the polar vortex, into the Aurora borealis. Quite an atmospheric week around here.

Northerners thawing out from a bitter freeze – including our Chiberia – may get rewarded with shimmering northern lights the next couple days.

Federal space weather forecaster Joe Kunches said the sun shot out a strong solar flare late Tuesday, which should arrive at Earth early Thursday. It should shake up Earth’s magnetic field and expand the Aurora Borealis south, possibly as far south as Colorado and central Illinois. He said best viewing would probably be Thursday evening, weather permitting.

The forecast in Chicago for Thursday, though, calls for snow in the afternoon and cloud cover.

The University of Alaska’s Geophysical Institute predicts much of Canada and the northern fringes of the U.S. should see the northern lights. Chicago, Boston, Cleveland, Seattle and Des Moines might see the shimmering colors low on the horizon, according to the Associated Press.

The coronal mass ejection is visible in this solar image – the white mass lower in the image. | NASA image

The flare, a large coronal mass ejection from sun spot AR1944, erupted Tuesday and is expected to hit Earth’s magnetic field at its heaviest Wednesday night and Thursday morning. The ejection is headed here at 2,000 kilometers per second – 4.5 million miles per hour – and has had some preliminary impacts already on planned space launches.

The AR1944 coronal mass ejection sprays subatomic particles toward Earth. | Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO)

The solar storm is already diverting airline flights around the poles and may disrupt GPS devices Thursday.

If you want to stare at the sun – figuratively – you can watch the current activity via the Helioviewer. And you can follow the aurorae developments via SpaceWeather.com.

More from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on where the aurorae will be most visible:

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Post by NOAA NWS Space Weather Prediction Center.UPDATE: 3:20 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 9 – Cloudy skies and light pollution aside, Illinois may not be getting much aurorae viewing after all. The solar flare hit Earth weaker than expected and the viewing area has been downgraded.

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