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Northern lights could dazzle mid-Michigan skies tonight

Look up! The northern lights could be out during a powerful geomagnetic storm
Posted at 5:40 PM, Aug 17, 2022

LANSING, Mich. — The Northern Lights could make an appearance in mid-Michigan Wednesday night! Yet another powerful geomagnetic storm shot out from the sun a couple of days ago and is now reaching the Earth. This will interact with the Earth’s magnetic field, which could produce a dazzling display of the Aurora Borealis.

So how do we see them this far south? Well, these storms are measured on planetary index, or Kp scale, from zero to nine. Zero is the lower and nine is the highest. While we are pretty far north on a map of the United States, mid-Michigan is actually in the southern half of the northern hemisphere.

This means we need a rather strong geomagnetic storm in order to see the Northern Lights this far south. We need a Kp rating of at least 6-7 in order to be able to see them. Right now, the storm is expected to bring Kp rating of 7, which would give us hope of seeing them in our skies!

The moon will be in a waning gibbous phase. That means it will only be about 60% illuminated. The better news is that the moon won’t be rising above the horizon until close to 1am. Even then it’ll be just coming up and not higher in the sky until about 3am.

How does it happen? A coronal mass ejection, or CME, shot out from the sun toward Earth. When a CME hits the Earth's atmosphere it triggers what is called a geomagnetic storm. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has a branch called the Space Weather Prediction Center and it ranks the level of the geo storm based on how powerful the CME heading our way is.

This one is expected to be a G3 level Wednesday night.

What do you do? Well, head outside as soon as darkness falls and look north. Of course, they will be best visible away from city lights. Long exposure cameras work the best if not able to be seen by the naked eye.

Most phones actually have this feature on the camera app that comes with it, if you don’t have a fancy camera. If you go into your “pro” settings, you should be able to adjust your shutter speed. However, there are indications they will be quite visible.

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