Where You Can See the Northern Lights in U.S. This Week

The Northern Lights, also known as the aurora borealis, may be visible on Thursday and Friday in some northern states, including Illinois, Oregon, Maine, Washington and Montana.

The colorful cosmic light display is caused by a geomagnetic storm. According to the Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a geomagnetic storm is "a major disturbance of Earth's magnetosphere that occurs when there is a very efficient exchange of energy from the solar wind into the space environment surrounding Earth.

"The largest storms that result from these conditions are associated with solar coronal mass ejections (CMEs) where a billion tons or so of plasma from the sun, with its embedded magnetic field, arrives at Earth," the SWPC explains.

In a statement Wednesday, the SWPC noted "Geomagnetic Storm Watches" are in effect through December 11. "As CME effects continue, activity is likely to increase, especially if the magnetic field carried with the CME connects well with Earth's magnetosphere.

"Therefore, the potential for strong storm levels exists and a G3 (Strong) Watch is in effect for December 10th. CME-related disturbances are forecast to continue into 11 December, likely resulting in G2 (Moderate) storm levels - and another Watch has been issued accordingly.

"While SWPC forecasters are fairly confident in CME arrival at Earth, timing and geomagnetic storm intensity are less certain," the statement added.

Geomagnetic Storm Watches in effect Dec 9 - 11, 2020, due to anticipated CME effects. The CME occurred on December 7th, and was associated with a C7 flare from Region 2790. For the full story visit https://t.co/mzq8JTer8q @NWS pic.twitter.com/EKOKtiyz3e

— NOAA Space Weather (@NWSSWPC) December 8, 2020

Spaceweather.com noted: "Activity could continue through the night of Dec. 10-11, giving North Americans north of latitude 45 or 50 degrees a chance to see auroras."

The Northern Lights could potentially be spotted in some states from Maine to Montana and Washington, according to the website.

If the SWPC's projected peak storm levels occur on Thursday, "auroras could be sighted in the USA in states as far south as, e.g., Illinois and Oregon," the website noted.

Jennifer McDermed, a meteorologist for Minnesota's FOX 9 tweeted Wednesday: "Geomagnetic storm watches are in effect through December 11th! What does this mean? LOOK NORTH. Get away from city lights. Pray the clouds break. And look for the northern lights! #Auroraborealis"

Max Tsaparis, a meteorologist for Wisconsin's WKOW also tweeted Wednesday:
"Look up tonight! A coronal ejection from the sun is heading towards earth tonight which may cause the #NorthernLights to be visible #auroraborealis."

NASA explains: "Auroras are the most visible effect of the sun's activity on the Earth's atmosphere.

"Auroras occur most frequently during solar maximum, the most intense phase of the 11-year solar or sunspot cycle. Electrons and protons released by solar storms add to the number of solar particles that interact with the Earth's atmosphere. This increased interaction produces extremely bright auroras.

"The most common color in an aurora is green. But displays that occur extremely high in the sky may be red or purple. Most auroras occur about 50 to 200 miles above the Earth. Some extend lengthwise across the sky for thousands of miles," according to NASA.

Northern Lights Alaska January 2017
The Northern Lights displayed near the Ester Dome mountain just outside Fairbanks, Alaska, picture on January 8, 2017. The Northern Lights may be visible this week in parts of the country's northern region. Lance King/Getty Images