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.
Northern Lights Now – A large coronal hole was pointed directly towards Earth on April 9th and 10th. The high speed solar wind from that exposed area is should impact Earth on April 13 and 14. Space weather forecasters are expecting two consecutive days of geomagnetic storming. That could bring several opportunities for Aurora hunters to experience the Northern and Southern Lights. Here’s an image from SDO from late on April 9 in AIA 211, a wavelength that makes it easy to see coronal holes:
SWPC is calling for two periods of active Aurora (G1 level storming). The first period is early on April 13 and the second is Early on April 14. For North American Aurora viewers this is in prime evening viewing time. Europeans viewers will have to stay up past midnight. See the NLN Aurora cast for April 13 and 14. The data behind this infographic comes from the Space Weather Prediction Center in Boulder Colorado
Note: It is not an error that both days have the same profile throughout the day. The is what the forecasting models have predicted.
Northern Lights Now – A pair of filament eruptions on April 6th likely produced CMEs that will impact Earth on April 10th and 11th, producing aurora. The first filament was about 15 degrees long along a NE-SW, with the SW terminus just to the NE of Active Region 2528. The eruption produced a wide arching and looping structure. Structures like these are often correlated with coronal mass ejections (CMEs) that have a “slinky” or coiled structure. The second, smaller filament, erupted from the southern hemisphere of the solar disk in Earth strike zone. If it did produce a CME, will likely be directed towards Earth. The two eruptions together mean there is an increased likelihood of aurora on April 10-11 as the solarstorms arrive.
In this animatedGIF (also shared on the NLN Twitter Account), watch the first filament eruption. Note the wide spread between the east and west side, and the apparent arcing between the two sides – particularly on the southern extent. The large bright area on at the southern end is active region 2528 (Beta). Towards the end of the loop, the launching Plasma material can be seen. It’s trajectory actually looks to be mosly to the North and West of the Earth-Sun line. If this storm does arrive at Earth, it will likely be a glancing blow. It is possible that additional material launched from the Eastern (right) side of the filament may not be visible in the imagery and directed towards Earth. LASCO imagary, coming available over the next 12 hours should confirm the extent and direction of the CME. Click either of the two video below for a zoomed in view.
The second eruption was much faster. The video below is taken from the last 3 hours of the same full-disk video as the one above. It is zoomed in to the central southern hemisphere of the visible disk and slowed to about half the speed. This is a fast eruption. Notice the dark area at the beginning of the clip, the eruption happens just to the north of this. It is a faint East to West wisp of plasma that lifts off temporarily hiding the dark area behind it. The eruption is in the Earth strike zone so, even though it is smaller, may have more impact on Earth than the second eruption.
Stay tuned to NLN for more updates on these two solar storms.