Once again, the Northern Lights are (hopefully!) making an appearance across the United States this weekend.
Although the likelihood of catching the natural wonder in New York is low, we reached out to American Museum of Natural History astrophysicist Jackie Faherty to get some tips that might maximize city dwellers' chances of witnessing the splendor that is the aurora borealis in the upcoming few days.
"Everyone's expectations should be low because this is a very hard phenomenon to see even when you're in Norway or in Sweden," the expert warns. "Clouds will just destroy it for you."
That being said, traveling a bit outside the hustle and bustle of Manhattan might be a good idea. But let's start from the beginning:
What are the Northern Lights?
"Our sun is a big ball of gas with a nuclear engine at its center that has a lot of dynamics," explains Faherty. "On occasion, the sun basically burps a lot of electromagnetic radiation and particles in a direction. It will burp out a solar flair and, when that happens on the side of the sun that is facing us, a lot of charged particles come racing towards Earth, which luckily has a protective atmospheric and magnetic field."
Once the particles slam at the field, they decay a bit and collide with atoms that are already in our atmosphere. The result? A cascade of light as these charged particles disintegrate.
Fun fact: The colors of the aurora borealis actually indicate what sort of atoms those charged particles have bumped into. Green, the most common hue, is associated with oxygen, for example.
When are the Northern Lights happening?
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) issued a forecast predicting the event will happen tonight and tomorrow. Time wise, you want to look up during the darkest hour of the day, which clearly ranges based on a lot of factors.
What's the best area in Manhattan to catch the spectacle?
Although Faherty is quick to note that we will likely not be able to see the Northern Lights from Manhattan, she does note that Central Park might be the best location to possibly catch them.
"If you go to the center of the Great Lawn, with trees blocking out light from the buildings, it might be a good spot," she says. "Two things are very important: being able to see a large portion of the sky and the sky being very dark."
One area you should definitely stay clear of is Times Square (to some, that's true at all times of the day).
Would leaving Manhattan help us witness the event?
Probably. Given the fact that access to an open sky is of utmost importance when trying to see the Northern Lights, leaving the city for the suburbs might be a good idea, says Faherty. Delaware, Greene and Columbia counties are good destinations to keep in mind.
Are there any other ways to witness the Northern Lights?
Unfortunately, the only way to catch the Northern Lights live is to, well, catch the Northern Lights live.
For an adjacent experience, though, you might want to consider attending the American Museum of Natural History's Big Quiet event on October 22, a meditation project inside the planetarium that will be complemented with astounding images—some perhaps even depicting the aurora borealis as seen from outer space.