The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientist says the flare is too weak and any light show would be limited to Alaska, Canada, Iceland, Norway and other far northern spots.
Lash says the event is unusual but not rare. Thats because it is happening during the quiet four-year solar minimum. Its unlikely to cause power or communication problems on Earth, nor will many people get a chance to see shimmering auroras.
A Solar Storm Will Send the Northern Lights Surging South Tonight
A geomagnetic storm, caused by a cloud of charged particles ejected from the sun, may bring the aurora borealis as far south as Iowa, Colorado and Washington on Saturday, as these particles bombard Earth, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administrations Space Weather Prediction Center.
If the storm is oriented properly, we could have a chance for auroras for several days after impact, said Tamitha Skov, a space weather scientist based in Los Angeles.
Auroras form when charged particles from the sun collide with Earths atmosphere. When there is an influx of charged particles during geomagnetic storms, this can supercharge the auroras glow, according to Terry Onsager, a physicist at the Space Weather Prediction Center.
Its like a big battery driving electricity through the Earths system, he said. And when that flows through the atmosphere, the atmosphere glows like a neon light.
The particles are the result of a coronal mass ejection, an outpouring of plasma from the suns atmosphere that was detected by NOAA on Wednesday.
This is exciting news, considering we havent had a decently sized Earth-directed solar storm launch for quite some time, Skov said, adding that geomagnetic storms are less common during the current period of the suns 11-year activity cycle.
Onsager said the storm could arrive Saturday morning, which means it may not be visible. But he and Skov both said that prediction could change.
Space weather forecasting today is very much like terrestrial weather forecasting was back in the 1960s, Skov said. In other words, the forecast may be off by as much as 12 hours in either direction.
Onager and Skov recommend tracking the aurora in real time using tools like NOAAs OVATION Aurora Forecast Models, which predict the Northern Lights location anywhere from a few days to a half hour in advance.
Like the sun, auroras rise in the east and sets in the west, Skov said. So, if youre looking for it before midnight, she recommends looking east. After midnight, she says, your best bet is to look west.