Solar storm could make auroras visible from northern Maine or Michigan tonight

The Northern Lights over the frozen Lake Superior in Michigan, in 2006.
The Northern Lights over the frozen Lake Superior in Michigan, in 2006. (Image credit: Mark Stacey/Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Auroras might be visible as far south in the United States as northern Michigan or Maine.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) forecasts a minor, G1-scale storm from the sun tonight (Dec. 23) that could generate northern lights once the solar particles hit the atmosphere of Earth and interact with our planet's magnetic field lines.

While that sounds exciting, it will be likely very difficult for U.S. observers to see any potential northern lights as a "bomb cyclone" is driving a massive winter storm across the northern and eastern United States.

In photos: Stunning northern lights from intense solar storms thrill stargazers

Solar particles can also cause issues with the power grid or in shorting out satellites, but fortunately for those working over the holiday season, it appears that the aurora's effect will be minor. NOAA only forecasts "weak power grid fluctuations" and possible "minor impact on satellite operations."

NASA and NOAA keep a constant watch on the sun using satellites, spacecraft and telescopes to best inform infrastructure managers how to keep things running, especially during busy times like the holidays.

NASA and other science agencies also work on creating models of the sun's behavior to better understand how the 11-year cycle of sunspots works and how heat is generated throughout the sun. Spacecraft like the Parker Solar Probe are allowing the agency to further refine its models and improve forecasts.

Elizabeth Howell is the co-author of "Why Am I Taller?" (ECW Press, 2022; with Canadian astronaut Dave Williams), a book about space medicine. Follow her on Twitter @howellspace. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon:

  • Evajonas
    I just want to say that Solar activity tends to be highest during the transition from fall to winter and winter to spring, adding to the chances of catching Aurora Borealis in Michigan!