SATURDAY MORNING UPDATE: It appears that the best opportunity for the Northern Lights will be after Sunset tonight, when the Space Energy is highest. This does not mean that the forecast verifies, as Saturday Morning, energy was lower than forecast. This timing will have to be watched closely, as clouds will be in the early to middle stages of clearing out, and that may limit our view (ideally we need a clear northern Horizon).
Watch from 1a-7a to the North and stay with WCIA for updates.
CENTRAL ILLINOIS (WCIA) – A major solar flare erupted from the Sun on Thursday, one of the stronger ones to be seen in some time.
The sun fired off an X1-class solar flare Thursday Morning around 10:30 A.M., CT. The flare was one of the stronger ones of it’s classification, and one of the stronger ones in recent months during an active period on the sun for space weather.
The classification of solar flares is rated on three different types: X-class flares, M-class flares and C-class flares. A C-class flare is small and has very minimal impacts on earth to satellites, power grids and communications. An M-class flare is more medium in size, and can cause radio blackouts around the polar regions of earth. The highest class is X-class, which are large flares that can trigger planet-wide issues.
Each category has nine subdivisions in it, ranging from 1 to 9. It is on a logarithmic scale, meaning an X1 flare is 100 times stronger than a C1. In the X-class, an X9 flare is 9 times greater than an X1. X-class flares can also extend above the subdivision of 9. Some of the stronger flares noted since 200 were on 4/2/01 (X20), 10/28/03 (X17) and 2/17/11 (X2), among others.
This flare is an X1, so it’s still a substantial flare, but perhaps not as high as some others in history. Often, these flares don’t impact earth directly, but this one is aimed right to where it might have a higher impact than a larger flare aimed away from earth.
With the current Space Weather Forecast, the X1 flare would impact this weekend, meaning both Friday Night and Saturday Night could allow the northern lights to dip low into the United States, much lower than normal.
The latest Space Weather Forecast from NASA has declared this a G3 Geomagnetic Storm Watch. This sits on a scale of G1-G5, with G5 having significant impacts on earth. The G3 storm generally results in some power grid issues in places and some satellite disruptions, particularly to GPS and communication signals. This Geomagnetic Storm has already caused radio blackouts in South America.
However, Earth’s weather also plays a role in the visibility. If there are clouds, we can’t directly see the Northern Lights, and that can essentially eliminate one’s ability to see it. That looks to be the case Friday Night, but clouds may clear out Saturday Night to allow some to see them.
To have the best chance of seeing the Northern Lights, you’ll want to head to a dimly lit rural area with a clear view of the northern sky. Look closer to the horizon as opposed to overhead. Choose the darkest part of the night, and your best odds would be from 12a-6a. However, this event looks like the timing could be off slightly, with the peak energy overhead from 4p-10p Saturday Evening. We’ll have to watch closely. Still, the event may play out to be more underwhelming than those famous pictures you see from up close in the Arctic Circle. Generally, if they are visible in Central Illinois, they are more easily seen with the help of a long-exposure camera.
To have the best chance of seeing the Northern Lights, you’ll want to head to a dimly lit rural area with a clear view of the northern sky. Look closer to the horizon as opposed to overhead. Choose the darkest part of the night, and your best odds would be from 12a-6a, depending on how the space energy evolves. Still, the event may play out to be more underwhelming than those famous pictures you see from up close in the Arctic Circle. Generally, if they are visible in Central Illinois, they are more easily seen with the help of a long-exposure camera.
Northern Light Forecasting is extremely tricky, but we have had some substantial Space Weather events visible in Central Illinois. This one likely doesn’t come as one of the more impressive ones, but it’s still one of the better chances we’ve had in several years to get a glance. And, an active solar pattern may allow for more opportunities in the future. If that happens, we’ll let you know.