Northern Lights Now – May 30 will be a great night to go stargazing! There is a slight chance for aurora overnight on May 30/May 31, and Mars will shine brightly red as it is at it’s closest to Earth in 13 years. If you are lucky enough to be in the Northeast united states, there will also be a terrific International Space Station (ISS) pass just after sunset.
A coronal hole was directed towards Earth three days ago and the high speed solar wind stream that it generated should be arriving this afternoon. As the high speed winds arrive, they will push on the Earth’s magnetosphere making aurora possible. This is a weak coronal hole, and so it is unlikely to produce a strong light show. Nonetheless, the Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) has issued a G1 geomagnetic storm watch indicating KP could exceed 5. Here’s an image of the coronal hole from Thursday.
SWPC also publishes a 30-75 minute lead time alert indicating what the KP will be based on data coming from the DSCOVR satellite. That feed drives NLN’s live KP chart, but it has been returning bad data since Thursday. Given that it is a holiday in the United States, we aren’t anticipating that it will be functional until at least tomorrow. That means aurora hunters will be flying blind! You can see the current solar wind data from ACE here. Your best bet is to go out and hope there is a show.
Also in the May 30th sky, Mars is at it’s brightest in the Earth sky in 11 years. The red planet is in the closest position it gets to Earth (known as “opposition”) which happens about once every 2 years and 2 months. This approach is actually the closest since 2003, when NASA sent the Opportunity and Spirit rovers to Mars. It will visible as a bright red “star” rising right around sunset. It will be easy to find in the southeastern (Northeastern for our southern followers) sky in the hours just after sunset. If you go out stargazing tonight, keep an eye out it.
This great article from EarthSky explains in detail that tonight Mars will be 46.8 million miles from Earth, and why this is the best viewing year in the last 11 years. Well worth the read.
If you are in the Northeast States in the United States, there’s yet another reason to be out stargazing tonight. At about 9:12, the International Space Station will make a very bright flyby. It will be moving from the Southwest sky to the Northeast. It should be visible for some people for almost 6 minutes. Use the Astroviewer Observation web page to find the exact time for your location.