If you know anything about the Northern Lights—also known as the Aurora Borealis—it’s probably that they don’t like sticking to a schedule. Sure, scientists can predict general times of year and geographic locations where the natural light show may be more likely to occur, but there are no guarantees. (Just ask the many people who’ve booked trips to Iceland assuming that they would see the Northern Lights at some point, only to leave disappointed.)
But what scientists can do is let us know if potentially strong geomagnetic storms are headed our way, conditions which indicate the Aurora Borealis could be visible. And according to the NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC), such conditions could occur this week. Here’s what you need to know about where the Northern Lights might be visible in the U.S. this week and how to see them.
Areas where the Northern Lights may be visible
Unsurprisingly, the farther north you are in the U.S. or Canada, the better your chances of catching a glimpse at the Aurora Borealis. Over the past few weeks, the Northern Lights have been spotted in the Arctic Circle, but the SWPC’s current forecast indicates a possibility that they could be visible at around midnight local time this Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday as far south as the U.S., thanks to forecasted geomagnetic storms.
According to Jamie Carter, senior science contributor at Forbes, the geomagnetic storms predicted for this week mean the Northern Lights may be visible as far south as the more northern areas of Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan, as well as in southern Ontario and Quebec in Canada. There’s also the possibility that these storms could get even stronger, meaning that the Northern Lights could even be visible from northern areas of Washington, Oregon, South Dakota and Maine.
Here’s some footage of the Aurora Borealis captured in Minnesota on Saturday night:
How to see the Northern Lights
Even if you live in one of these areas, it doesn’t guarantee you’ll be able to spot the Aurora Borealis, because ultimately it comes down to not only the geomagnetic storm forecast, but also your local weather forecast. Namely, you’ll need there to be clear skies. If you check the forecast and it doesn’t call for cloud cover in your area, here’s how to maximize your chances of seeing the Aurora Borealis, according to Carter:
- Make a plan to be somewhere with a clear horizon to the north, preferably one that doesn’t feature a town or city (light pollution will make your search harder). Be there around midnight.
- Preferably choose a dark sky site. Check the Light Pollution Map, Dark Site Finder and Find a Dark Sky Place.
- Let your eyes adjust to darkness for about 20 minutes.
- Keep your expectations in check; you’re most likely to see a layer of green above the northern horizon, and not an all-out geomagnetic storm above your head.
If you plan on taking photos of the phenomenon, start with this guide to finding a truly dark location and then check out our tips for taking pictures of the sky at night. There are also plenty of specific strategies for snapping the Aurora Borealis that could be helpful. Good luck! And even if they don’t actually show up this week, at least you didn’t book a trip to Europe to see them.