Aurora borealis: Geomagnetic storm brings very low local chance of visible northern lights Thursday evening

Chance are much higher to our north, with a very slight chance in our local area of any visible lights.

By: Tim Studebaker

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WLNE) – The aurora borealis, or northern lights, are a beautiful and common sight in the arctic.  They’re not so common here in southern New England.

Doctor Ian Dell’Antonio is a professor in the physics department at Brown University.  He says, “I’ve never unambiguously seen the aurora from Rhode Island in 20 years.”

It’s rare for the lights to be visible this far south, but it can happen in particularly strong solar storms.

Dell’Antonio says “Storms called coronal mass ejections send particles out into space.  On Monday, there was a coronal mass ejection that was in the direction of the earth.”

Dell’Antonio says this week’s storm may not quite be strong enough to bring the lights this far south, but there is a very slight chance of visible aurora tonight.

Dell’Antonio says “When the particles reach the earth, they hit the atmosphere, and they cause the molecules in the atmosphere to glow, and that’s what we see as the aurora.”

It’s important to stay realistic about what to expect.  He puts our chances here at about 10%, but it’s always fun to look!

Dell’Antonio says “The main thing is not to expect an all sky – if you’ve seen the pictures of aurora – it’s not going to look like the shimmering sheets.  A reddish glow near the horizon is often the most common thing you can see.”

Your best chance is to head to a dark place away from city lights, and focus on the northern horizon.  The Space Weather Prediction Center forecasts the highest activity in the hours just after sunset Thursday night.

If you do see the northern lights, and you get pictures or videos, we want to see them!  Send them to us here:

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Categories: News, Regional News, Rhode Island