California could get rare glimpse of northern lights this week. Here’s how to watch

California could get a rare glimpse of the northern lights this week, thanks to a recent series of solar flares.

Three eruptions occurred on the surface of the Sun on Monday and Tuesday that “sent solar material out into space,” said Shawn Dahl, a service coordinator at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Space Weather Prediction Center.

Some of these coronal mass ejections, also known as CMEs, could be visible in the skies above California late Wednesday night and early Thursday in the form of a stunning light display, according to the Space Weather Prediction Center.

More CMEs will pass through the area on Friday, Dahl said.

How are solar storms measured?

NOAA has a space weather scale that helps classify geomagnetic storms.

That scale starts at G1, indicating a minor storm, and ends at G5, indicating an extreme storm.

Wednesday evening’s storm was classified as G1.

Friday’s solar storm could be classified as level G3, or, strong, Dahl said.

What causes the northern lights?

Auroras are caused by “eruptions from the Sun, that then impact the Earth a couple days later,” Bill Murtagh, program coordinator at the Space Weather Prediction Center, told The Sacramento Bee in March.

“These energetic particles come flowing in to the high latitudes and interact with the Earth’s atmosphere,” Murtagh said. “That interaction ends up triggering the aurora.”

The northern lights, also known as aurora borealis, can normally only be seen near the North Pole.

In Alaska, the so-called “aurora season” runs from late August and late April, peaking in March, according to Travel + Leisure magazine.

In the southern hemisphere, the atmospheric phenomenon is known as the southern lights, or, aurora australis. It usually visible May through August.

Can I see aurora borealis in California?

If this week’s solar storm reaches a G3 level, it’s possible that those living in Northern California could spot the aurora borealis.

The best times to catch the solar light show will be Thursday evening into early Friday morning, Dahl said.

Can solar flares cause a radio blackout?

Solar flares can cause radio blackouts due to geomagnetic activity, but they typically only affect high-frequency radio, according to Dahl.

He said a 30-minute radio blackout occurred on Tuesday as a result of the solar eruptions.

“There are some potential minor influences to some of our technologies, but nothing that can’t be controlled and handled,” Dahl said. “Nobody needs to be concerned about these activities.”

What’s the best way to watch the northern lights?

Below are tips to get the best visibility for the northern lights, according to the Space Weather Prediction Center:

  • Go to a dark outdoor place away from city lights.

  • Timing is important. The best time to catch a glimpse of the aurora is usually within an hour or two of midnight.

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