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 – You never know what you are going to see when out chasing Aurora! This morning around 12:30 AM EST, when several aurora hunters were out looking for Aurora due to a G1 strom watch, a very bright meteor streaked across the nighttime New England sky. It was visible from upstate New York to New Jersey and all the way to the coast. Here’s a dash cam video captured by the Portland ME police officer Sgt. Farris:
Watch with the sound on, you’ll hear he was very impressed!
If you saw the fireball last night, please consider reporting it on AMSMeteors’ website. They collect reports of fireballs, meteors and shooting stars and map the results. With reports of timing, direction and magnitude they can triangulate the exact path the meteor took through the sky. Here is a peak at their current Map of this display:
Northern Lights Now – SWPC has issued a geomagnetic storm watch for potential G1 conditions on late on May 16. A coronal pointed towards Earth should release high speed solar winds that will begin impacting Earth’s magnetosphere on Sunday. Based on STEREO Ahead data, the winds are anticipated to be between 550 and 600 km/s as they arrive. The pressure the wind, and the particles it is carrying, exert will displace the magnetosphere and could result in Aurora.
At the moment, the projected timeline for the G1 storming (KP=5+) is in the second half of May 16. As always, if the winds are faster than expected, the storming could arrive earlier and be stronger. If they wind is slower, the active period may be later, but last longer. Here’s the NLN’s auroraCast displaying the SWPC projected timelines for when storming could arrive:
The coronal hole that is producing these storms is smaller and not quite as well positioned as the coronal hole that produced the May 7-8 storming. But if the magnetic fields line up correctly, it could still put on a good show. Here is an image of the last coronal hole, and this coronal hole side by side with images from SDO in AIA 211:
Introducing a new feature! You will be able to watch this high speed solar wind arrive live on our just release ACE Solar Wind page. This page has 5 charts that are updated every minute with the most recent data from the ACE satellite. Four graphs show the current and recent solar wind speed, solar wind proton density, and current magnetic field strength in Bt and N/S orientation in Bz. The top graph shows the duration that each of those different measures have exceeded certain thresholds. Spaceweather enthusiasts and photographers know that the longer the wind is strong and the longer and stronger the Bz is oriented south, the more likely northern lights are. Now you can watch these conditions develop in real time. Here’s a snapshot of that page!