A chance to see the Northern Lights?
(Photo Courtesy: University of Alaska Geophysical Institute)
A massive solar storm arrived at Earth earlier this morning as a result of the huge solar flare the sun ejected Tuesday evening. It also could give most of Idaho a rare chance at viewing an aurora Thursday night and early Friday morning.
An aurora is a luminous glow of the upper atmosphere caused by geomagnetic particles that enter the atmosphere from above, and are normally only seen in higher latitudes during winter. Strong solar wind activity increases the chances of areas, like the northern continental U.S., sneaking a peak on the horizon as well. Solar wind from the very strong flares on Tuesday is traveling at close to 4 million miles per hour, well above it's average speed of 1 million mph.
The image you see here is the "Aurora Forecast" put out by the University of Alaska. You can see a thin, solid green line moving through far southwest Idaho across the Wyoming/Colorado border into the midwest. Everywhere above that line has a chance of seeing the aurora low on the northern horizon. Areas off to our north in the big, green ring will have a highly active aurora visible overhead (prime viewing).
Events like this are tough to forecast more than an hour or two out, but if we go "by the book" on an event like this without getting technical, it gives most of Idaho (extreme SW Idaho misses out) a chance of seeing the aurora low on the horizon. We have the ingredients needed (high geomagnetic activity, decent latitude, and clear nighttime skies,) but we'll be competing against a full moon, and light pollution in some (populated) areas like the Treasure Valley. There's no guarantees here, but if you're going to be up tonight between 9 pm - 3 am Friday, look north. If you're really deadset on trying to view this, I recommend heading north of the Treasure Valley. The combination of light pollution and a full moon will give the valley very little chance of catching it.