Northern lights may be visible Wednesday night
Get ready, a geomagnetic storm is expected Wednesday that could amplify Earth's auroras, making them visible in the northernmost parts of Michigan and Maine, weather officials said.
The aurora borealis light show, known as northern lights, could be visible through Thursday, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. A category G1 (minor) geomagnetic storm period was reported on Tuesday by NOAA.
While not everyone in Michigan will be able to see the stunning rays of color, they'll technologically see the effects of the storm.
Daniel Welling, an assistant research scientist at the University of Michigan, said it's typical for power lines and satellites to be disturbed since high voltage is in the atmosphere, causing signals to scatter.
"We can expect GPS signals to be far less accurate than normal," Welling said. "There's also space radiation hazards, where it can be a dangerous time for astronauts and satellites. There are many instances when a satellite has been interrupted or disabled during a storm."
During the minor Wednesday storm, Metro Detroiters can expect to see faint white lights in the sky unless they travel up north, where the lights may be more visible, Welling said.
"Weaker storms going to appear white and faint but for stronger storms, we are able to see colors like green and sometimes red," Welling said. "It depends on the amount of energy flowing into the atmosphere that excites the particles to light up."
The lights are the result of a collision of electrically charged particles from the sun as they enter Earth's atmosphere.
According to the Space Weather Prediction Center and NOAA, Earth’s magnetic field guides the electrons to form two ovals centered at the magnetic poles. During a major geomagnetic storm, the ovals expand and at night, arcs often begin to twist and sway, just as if a wind were blowing on curtains of light.
Alex Manion, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in White Lake Township, said clouds are expected at midnight in Metro Detroit and Pontiac area.
"Looks like if we do any northern lights, it'll be possible to see them before midnight and then we're going to start to see high-level clouds coming in from the north," Manion said. "We'll also have clear skies in the early morning hours to catch it."
Pritam Jagtap of Troy has been chasing the lights for a year and after traveling to Grand Marais more than seven times, she was only successful on two chases. She says one of the most important things is learning to use the KP index, a 0-9 scale to determine what chance you have to see the auroras.
She plans on traveling to the Upper Peninsula Wednesday afternoon to Bay Mills Township.
"Now, I can recognize auroras even with KP index of 3," Jagtap said. "If the KP is 5, it will be an awesome experience. We will see a dancing aurora. To the naked eye, it will be a fainted green color band with purple color pillars."
Welling said storms can only be predicted, at most, a few days before they occur. He and a team at UM are working on ways to predict, but as of now, "how much time we can forecast comes down to how fast they move from the sun."