Clouds Will Dash Hopes At Seeing Aurora In News England Skies Wednesday Night – CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) – The sun is waking up…

Most of us certainly take it for granted that the fiery star in our solar system, also known as the sun, keeps us alive and well. When was the last time you gave it a real thought? The orb of heat and light 93 million miles away is essentially responsible for everything we think of as life. While we still have billions of years before it starts dying off and eviscerating all the inner planets, there’s still good reason to keep a close eye on what it’s doing on a daily and yearly basis.

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(Photo credit: Spaceweather.com)

The sun operates in 11-year cycles of activity. We are emerging from a “solar minimum” (a period of relative quiet and low activity on the sun’s surface) and beginning a new solar cycle. Simply put, the sun is a very busy and volatile place. So when I say that our sun is “waking up”, essentially what I mean is that we are entering another active period on the solar surface.

(Photo credit: Spaceweather.com)

Solar activity is often measured by the number of sunspots on the sun’s surface. The more active the sun, the more sun spots. If you look at images of the Sun today, you’ll notice darker areas on the Sun’s surface (sunspots) that are cooler than the surrounding area. These dots are created by swirling electrically charged gases that generate powerful magnetic fields. These swirling gases will stretch and contort the magnetic field so dramatically that we often have an explosion or eruption emanating from the sunspot itself. This eruption is also known as a solar flare. In an active solar period (like the one we’re currently in), the sun will essentially spew out solar flares fairly regularly. When one of those sunspots and solar flares points directly at Earth, we pay special attention.

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(Photo credit: Spaceweather.com)

Just a few days ago, on March 28, the sun unleashed a group of flares, 17 in all, many aimed directly at our planet. In fact, NOAA computer models suggest that some of the flares will combine into one large ejection, called a “cannibal CME (coronal mass ejection),” hitting Earth’s atmosphere tonight and early Thursday. Fortunately, we have an atmosphere that is capable of protecting us from these massive bursts of radiation. However, there may be some effects and impact in the next 24 hours or so. Since the size of this ejecta is considered medium size (class M), the most likely effects would be some intermittent problems with high frequency radios and satellites and GPS navigation systems.

(Photo credit: Spaceweather.com)

Perhaps the largest byproduct of solar flares and the most interesting to the masses would be that of Aurora. If you’ve spent any time living in higher latitudes, say northern Canada or Alaska, you’ve no doubt seen the Northern Lights plenty of times. But, for us here in New England, they are a very rare phenomenon. Tonight is one of those special nights when people as far south as Oregon, Iowa, and even Massachusetts COULD glimpse the dancing colors of an aurora. BUT (you knew that was coming, didn’t you?), unfortunately, there will be a lot of clouds around tonight. So given how many times these aurora alerts end up being false alarms and the fact that we will have a lot of clouds around, the chances of seeing the Northern Lights tonight are very low. If, by any chance, there’s something clear in your area and you’re feeling adventurous, head to an area with as little artificial light pollution as possible and has a good, unobstructed view of the horizon.

If tonight doesn’t work out, there will be many more opportunities in the coming months and years as we approach a solar maximum in 2025. There could even be another opportunity in the days ahead depending on what happens with current sunspots. .

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