Northern Lights: Where to Watch Aurora Borealis Forecast to Reach New York, Wisconsin, Washington State

northern lights aurora borealis
A dog stands under northern lights on September 30, 2018, in Unstad, Northern Norway. The spectacle is expected to be spotted in northern parts of the U.S. OLIVIER MORIN/AFP/Getty Images

Sky watchers as far south as New York, Wisconsin and Washington state could be treated to the sight of the ethereal northern lights this weekend.

A moderate solar storm is expected to hit Earth on Saturday following a flare on Wednesday, according to the Space Weather Prediction Center of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA.) It is predicted to reach our planet at around 12 p.m. UTC on Saturday.

"This one is dense & strong so it could pack a decent punch!" tweeted Con Stoitsis, a columnist for Sky & Telescope.

The NOAA predicts the phenomenon, also known as the aurora borealis, could illuminate the skies above Washington state, New York and Wisconsin over the weekend.

The sun constantly sends a stream of solar particles and energy toward the Earth in the form of solar wind. And when the star belches out electrified gas in what is known as a coronal mass ejection, these particles shoot toward our planet at high speeds.

Our planet's magnetic field blocks most of the particles. But some will pass down Earth's magnetic field lines at each pole and enter the atmosphere, where oxygen and nitrogen molecules give off light. The result is a brush of vibrant color that dances across the night sky, in colors ranging from icy blues to vibrant magentas and neon-glow greens.

When this occurs in the Northern Hemisphere it is known as the aurora borealis, while such an event in the Southern Hemisphere is called the aurora australis.

You don't need any fancy equipment to see the glorious display. But those closest to the auroral oval have the best chance of seeing the northern lights.

According to the Canadian Space Agency, "Auroral ovals are usually centered around the Earth's magnetic poles but can expand during periods of intense solar activity. When this happens, more southerly regions of Canada see the northern lights, typically on the horizon towards the north."

Skies need to be clear in order for sky watchers to be wowed by the spectacle. Because the northern lights occur above the clouds, check the weather forecast in your area before going out. And head as far from the light pollution of cities as you can. Visibility can partly come down to chance—it's easier to see the aurora during a new moon, as the shine of a full moon can render the aurora invisible.

The Canadian Space Agency also recommends watching the aurora closely, as it can move and dance rapidly without warning. And cast your gaze in all directions, not just the Northern Hemisphere, to enjoy the full effect.