Parts of the Northern United States might see the aurora this weekend

Digital Desk

Northern lights aurora borealis
Image Credit: Getty Images

(WVNS) — A powerful X-Class Solar Flare, the strongest type of solar flare, was detected on October 28, which could provide a light show to parts of the Northern Hemisphere this weekend.

The Space Weather Prediction Center put out a Geomagnetic Storm Watch for Saturday, October 30, for a potential display of the Aurora Borealis. The watch has been marked as “Moderate” or “G3” in regards to the expected strength of the storm which besides producing the aurora can also cause disruptions in radio and GPS communications.

G3 Strong geomagnetic storm watch graphic with aurora
The scale for Geomagnetic storms goes from G1 to G5, a G3 storm is considered to be “Moderate” in intensity.
Image Credit: Space Weather Prediction Center

How does the Aurora form?

When the sun sends a solar flare shooting off into space, it is full of highly charged particles moving along whats known as the solar wind. For the most part Earth’s magnetic field, thanks to the planet’s nickel and iron core, deflects these particles harmlessly away. But at both the south and the north poles, these particles are able to enter Earth’s atmosphere as the magnetic field converges at these points.

Illustration of a solar storm coming toward Earth, some of the energy and small particles traveling down the magnetic field lines at the north and south poles into Earth's atmosphere.
Image Credit: Nasa/Space Place

The colors of the Aurora come from interactions between the gases in our atmosphere and these highly charged particles. Oxygen and Nitrogen are the two most abundant gases, and produce a majority of the colors you see. Oxygen produces shades of green and red, while Nitrogen produces flares of purple and blue.

FILE – In this Nov. 8, 2004, file photo, the aurora borealis lights up the sky northwest of Lawrence, Kan. The phenomenon, also called northern lights, occurs when electrically charged particles from the sun enter the earth’s atmosphere. Robert Rutledge, of the U.S. government’s space weather prediction center said Thursday, Dec. 10, 2020, that stargazers in the continental 48 states have very little chance of seeing the northern lights this week despite an initial promising forecast. (Scott McClurg/The Lawrence Journal-World via AP, File)

Will we be able to see it in West Virginia?

Unfortunately, we’re too far south to get a good view of the Aurora. The only way we could have seen it would have been just along the horizon if the storm reached the high end of its forecasted strength. Not to mention during the peak of the storm, overcast clouds are in the forecast for most of West Virginia. Places with the best chance of seeing the Aurora include states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York, Northern Indiana and Illinois, Michigan, etc. Weather permitting of course.

Aurora forecast from the University of Fairbanks for the evening of October 30

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