People across Alaska may have the opportunity to see a particularly active aurora borealis this week.
The University of Alaska’s Fairbanks Geophysical Institute’s Aurora forecast map shows that a large portion of the state, stretching north from Utqiagvik to Kodiak, should try to see the Northern Lights this week.
Having a clear sky for viewing the lights is important, according to Don Hampton, a research fellow at the Geophysical Institute.
Fortunately, for people in south-central Alaska, the skies are likely to be clear on both Wednesday and Thursday nights before the clouds roll on Friday, according to National Weather Service Anchorage meteorologist Tim Markle.
“It looks like the cloud cover will last through the weekend, so it looks like tonight and tomorrow night are our best chances for aurora viewing,” said Markle on Wednesday.
The best aurora usually happens between 11 p.m. and 2 a.m., Hampton said. There is also a camera feed from the Geophysical Institute that shows the aurora in real time.
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The aurora starts with the sun, said Hampton. Much like a cup of hot tea giving off steam in the morning, the hot sun gives off a constant stream of particles known as the solar wind. That wind moves fast, said Hampton – about four hundred miles, or nearly 250 miles per second.
And as the solar wind moves away from the sun, it interacts with the Earth’s magnetic field in specific places, causing the aurora, given the right conditions, Hampton said.
“If there wasn’t a solar wind, we would never have the aurora,” he said.
The aurora forecast tries to predict what the sun might do. Although the solar wind is fast, it can take three or four days to reach Earth, he said.
“We can’t guarantee it’ll be good every night,” said Hampton. “But I think there is a good chance for the next three nights that we have a much better chance of seeing a pretty active aurora.”
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