How to see the Northern Lights over the next two nights


The Northern Lights, seen here from Iceland, are a favorite sight for many.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Americans who can’t normally view the spectacular light show known as the Northern Lights may be about to get their chance. The Space Weather Prediction Center says the dazzling display, known as the Aurora Borealis, could be visible from unexpected parts of the nation on Wednesday and Thursday night this week.

This week, the Northern Lights might be seen in such varied regions as New England, the Pacific Northwest, and even as far south as Nebraska, central Illinois and the very tip of Missouri.

The National Weather Service office in Chicago told residents to be on the lookout.

“There is a chance that the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) might be visible here tonight and tomorrow night, although cloud cover could be a factor,” the organization said in a tweet. “Better chances to see it will come as you go farther north and away from well-lit urban areas.”

“Aurora can often be observed somewhere on Earth from just after sunset or just before sunrise,” the Space Weather Prediction Center reports, “The aurora is not visible during daylight hours.  The aurora does not need to be directly overhead but can be observed from as much as a 1,000 km (620 miles) away when the aurora is bright and if conditions are right.”

The sky in your area needs to be clear and cloudless for the Northern Lights to be seen. You’ll want to get away from the light pollution of major cities, so head for a more undeveloped area.

“As [meteorologist Sara Housseal] mentions, you’ll want to get away from city lights, be able to see low down to the horizon towards the north, and of course, good weather,” Space Weather Watch noted in a tweet. “Clear skies everyone!”

The aurora is caused by electrons colliding with the upper reaches of Earth’s atmosphere and releasing their energy in the form of light. At polar latitudes, the aurora can be seen during more than half of the nights of a given year.

“It is the only way for most people to actually experience space weather,” the center notes.

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