You might be able to spot something pretty special in the skies above you this week. According to the internet’s aurora watchers, the Earth is in for one colourful display during the next 48 hours, and the ethereal lights might be visible in more locations than usual.
Typically, the Northern Lights are visible in places like Iceland, Norway and Canada. Every now and again the northern reaches of the USA and UK get a display too. But if predictions are correct, the aurora could be visible across much of both countries, tonight and during the rest of this week. In the US, it could even be visible as far south as Virginia and North Carolina, with especially decent aurora sightings possible in the Midwest and upstate New York, while the lights could be visible as far south as the Midlands in England.
Meteorologists are reacting to a solar flare which recently sent huge numbers of charged particles towards Earth, aided by a strong solar wind from a geomagnetic storm. Those particles are what causes the aurora to be seen.
It was originally thought that the phenomenon would peak on Wednesday night, but scientists are now saying the best chance to spot the show will be this tonight (Thursday December 10). The dark hours before midnight are best in the US, while stargazers in the UK should try their luck in the early hours before dawn.
The aurora appears above the northern horizon as a faint, colourful glow. The further north you are, the brighter it should appear.
The best conditions are dark, cloudless spots as far away as possible from light pollution. The main problem stargazers might have? Poor visibility: cloud cover (forecast in the UK and much of the US) will seriously shrink your chance of being able to see the lights. But if the weather plays ball, this is definitely worth braving the cold for.
What else can you spot in the night sky? There will be two meteor showers, a lunar eclipse and a rare ‘Christmas Star’ taking place this December.