We Can Expect Brilliant Northern Lights in Early February

1/30/2011 7:56:22 AM

A coronal hole has opened up on the surface of the sun this month. This hole is characterized by being colder and darker with lower density plasma as compared to the rest of the corona. A phenomenon known as the fast solar wind is known to travel along open magnetic field lines that tend to pass through the coronal hole and out into space.

A Picture Taken in Extreme Ultraviolet Light of the Sun and the Coronal Hole

The Earth itself is generally shielded from the solar wind by its magnetic field, which steers most of the charged particles away. However, some of the charged particles are trapped in the Van Allen radiation belt (for a description of what this belt is, please click here).

Some particles from the solar wind will travel to the Earth's upper atmosphere and ionosphere. The solar wind is observable on the Earth when it is strong enough to produce phenomena such as the auroras and geomagnetic storms.

Experts are saying that the sun's rotation will cause the hole to face Earth shortly. The fast solar wind will then cause an increase in activity of both the aurora borealis (otherwise known as the northern lights) and aurora australis (southern lights). Brilliant viewing of these phenomena is expected to peak between Feb. 2 and 4.

With the horrific weather expected across the central and eastern parts of the United States this week, viewing conditions of the northern lights will be less than ideal through Wednesday night. Maybe the best chance to see this possible display will be Thursday night as the storm moves away. Bundle up if you outside to try get a glimpse as temperatures will be chilly!

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