RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – An unusually strong coronal mass ejection (CME) coming from the sun earlier this week was supposed to give a majority of the United States the chance to see northern lights Wednesday and Thursday night, but that has now changed.
Thursday afternoon, the Space Weather Prediction Center downgraded its forecast intensity of the geomagnetic storm. It was this storm that was expected to produce a greenish tinted aurora sky as far south as North Carolina.
This after reviewing observations from the initial shock as it passed the NASA measured the initial energy from the storm Wednesday using its Deep Space Climate Observatory and found there was less energy. This means it is now unlikely there will be anything to see in most of the United States, including North Carolina.
Forecast space weather, solar flares, and auroras are incredibly difficult. It’s much different than weather forecasting as you have to consider that the sun is 92 million miles away from Earth.
While we will not see any auroras in North Carolina this time around, it is a frequent event in Alaska during the winter months. The image below was captured by John Rice in Alaska in February of 2018.
Coronal mass ejections, or solar flares, are bursts of energy and particles that get thrown toward Earth by the sun. They happen frequently, but don’t always make it across the solar systems. CMEs that do make it to Earth normally are deflected by the magnetic shield around the planet.
This time, however, the CME is unusually strong, so some of the energy and particles will make it around the Earth’s magnetic field to the north and south pole.
The particles and energy that make it to the poles will filter down through North America, possibly giving the northern night sky some auroral activity. This will be in the form of some greening of the sky, but not an extreme version of multi-colored ribbons that are seen in photos or movies.
This type of event is usually only visible in Alaska or Canada, so it’s worth looking. Good luck! If you capture any pictures or video, please send them along to us at CBS 17 at firstname.lastname@example.org.