New Englanders — in some areas of the region, at least — could be treated to a stunning display of the aurora borealis, or northern lights, in the night sky Thursday night.
Lieutenant Bryan R. Brasher, project manager at the Space Weather Prediction Center, said the aurora could be visible in some places.
“Viewing the aurora from New England tonight is certainly possible,” Brasher said in an email to the Globe. “We are predicting G3 (Strong) levels of geomagnetic response which has the potential of bringing the southern flank of the auroral directly over parts of Northern Maine. On the conservative end for the rest of the region, the aurora could perhaps be a faint red glow visible when looking North.”
Don’t expect to see anything if you’re in a city though, he said.
“Unless we are having a G4 or higher storm, you’ll be looking for the red ‘tops’ of the aurora that will be occurring directly over more Northerly latitudes. Using a phone camera in night mode or a long exposure shot might be helpful and of course people should not expect to see anything if they are inside of a city due to light pollution,” Brasher said.
The lights will be “underwhelming” to most as they won’t be as vibrant as they are in Norway or other places known for seeing the aurora, Francis Tarasiewicz, a weather observer at Mt. Washington Observatory said.
“A lot of people expect pillars that are going to be dancing across the sky like very obvious Northern Lights, but you’ll see more of a faint glow,” he said.
They will appear as a light green hue on the horizon and the further north in New England you are, the more vibrant they will be, Tarasiewicz said.
“Let your eyes adjust,” he said. “Get away from the artificial lights of the city and be careful of the moon which should be bright,”
The best way to view it is actually using a camera, even a phone camera, with a long exposure, he said.
Tarasiewicz added this is one of the stronger solar storms in a few years over New England meaning the aurora will be stronger than it has.
A geomagnetic storm is also in the forecast for Friday, but if you’re hoping to catch a glimpse of the northern lights, it doesn’t look good for sky watchers in southern New England.
Kristie Smith, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said clouds are in the forecast, which will reduce visibility.
“Unfortunately it will be cloudy tomorrow night, very cloudy,” Smith said in a telephone interview. “Ninety percent clouds, all of Friday night.”
Tonight there will be clearer skies, and if you’re in northern New England and use a camera with long exposure, you’ll have a better chance.
“Predicting the timing and intensity of these events proves difficult, after all we are trying to forecast something coming from 93 million miles away or so,” Brasher explained. “But we have fairly good confidence that an Earth-directed component to the 4th in a string of coronal mass ejections (CMEs) will arrive at Earth as early as tonight. If the CME arrives later than anticipated, the G3 expectation still holds, but means that perhaps the aurora may be visible Friday night into early Saturday morning.”
Those seeking to view the aurora should be “ready for both nights just in case,” Brasher said.
“Hopeful viewers are encouraged to monitor our webpage for conditions and get outside of city lights to darker skies looking north when or as things begin to look favorable - meaning, be mindful of G1 and G2 Alerts that were issued - meaning those levels of storm conditions are taking place,” he said.
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