The aurora borealis, better known as the Northern Lights, is one of the most beautiful phenomenon on earth. The sun occasionally releases charged particles that strike the earth's atmosphere in such a way that creates stunning mosaics across the night's sky.
Usually you can only see them when you're up north. Way up north.
Every once in awhile the stars align, or should we say the earth aligns, in such a way that the Northern Lights take a trip down south.
The Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) is forecasting a geomagnetic storm for January 23. There's a lot of science involved in this, but what that means for you is that you could see the Northern Lights.
The forecast shows the aurora will extend to the uppermost reaches of the continental United States. Due to the government shutdown there's no map tracking the geomagnetic storm, but a previous one in November was visible in Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and Maine.
It won't be as easy as just stepping outside to see the Northern Lights. Here are some tips on what to do for the best chance to spot them:
Avoid Light Pollution
Big cities emit a lot of light, that makes it harder to spot things like stars, planets, and yes, the aurora borealis. If you're in a metropolitan center, drive about 20 minutes outside of the city limits and you should be free from light pollution. Many suburbs are dark enough at night to offer a good view too.
Okay, so it's not exactly looking up, but you have to look to the Northern Horizon. When we see pictures of the Northern Lights, they are dancing across the sky, but when we're this far south we'll see them more on the horizon. Make sure you have an unobstructed view, no buildings or trees in the way. If there's a hill or other high point you can safely get to, you'll have an even better chance.
Check The Weather
If you have clouds in your forecast, I'm sorry you're out of luck. You need a perfectly clear night in order to see the phenomenon.
It's a rare occurrence that the Northern Lights is visible this far south and even more rare that weather might cooperate. If things are looking like you might see them tonight, I definitely recommend trying!