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 (opens in new tab)?" (ECW Press, 2022; with Canadian astronaut Dave Williams), a book about space medicine. Follow her on Twitter @howellspace (opens in new tab). Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in new tab) or Facebook (opens in new tab).

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022. She was contributing writer for Space.com (opens in new tab) for 10 years before that, since 2012. Elizabeth's reporting includes an exclusive with Office of the Vice-President of the United States, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, 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 (soon) a Bachelor of History from Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science since 2015. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: https://qoto.org/@howellspace

  • 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!
    Reply