There have been two solar flares this week, each sending energized plasma toward Earth. The first solar flare was weak, but the second solar flare was ranked as strong by NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center.
The energy from both solar flares is now hitting Earth, and should produce northern lights Friday night, Sept. 12, 2014 and Saturday night, Sept. 13, 2014.
Before we go on, I want you to know that tonight will be too cloudy in all of Michigan to see northern lights. But clouds will clear late Saturday afternoon and evening. Saturday night would have clear enough skies that we could see northern lights in all of Michigan.
So we have to put all our hopes on Saturday night for seeing northern lights.
Here is a time lapse of the northern lights last night at Poker Flats, Alaska, courtesy of the Geophysical Institute- University of Alaska.
The Space Weather Prediction Center(SWPC) currently forecasts a 40% chance of a minor geomagnetic storm Friday night, and a 25% chance of a major geomagnetic storm. A major geomagnetic storm would produce northern lights as far south as Michigan.
On Saturday, SWPC has a forecast of a 40% chance of a minor storm and a 45% chance of a major storm. That sounds very exciting if you want to see northern lights. But I looked at the forecast closer, and SWPC actually means just after midnight Friday night as the most likely time for a major geomagnetic storm.
Saturday night, SWPC forecasts a five percent chance of a major geomagnetic storm.
But Spann says space weather forecasting today is about as accurate as earthly weather forecasting was in the mid 1980s. We certainly were 6-12 hours off on forecasts back then.
How to monitor status of northern lights
The best overall webpage I found to monitor the progression of northern lights is here.
The top right of the page has a table labeled "NOAA Scales Activity". This shows the current strength of the geomagnetic storm. The stronger the storm, the greater the northern lights. At the time of writing this, the strength is G2. G3 is considered a strong geomagnetic storm. This ranking is expected to go up tonight.
Just below the table is an "auroral map". This shows where the northern lights are currently. The northern lights would show up in the yellow to orange areas, if the skies are clear. Again, the yellow to orange area is expected to expand southward tonight as the brunt of the energy hits Earth.
Jim Spann, who works in Huntsville, AL., has produced parts for satellites that will monitor northern lights. But until four years ago he had never seen the northern lights with his own eyes. So he took a trip to Alaska and got to experience them.
So Saturday night, if we get to see the northern lights, Spann may be green sky with envy.