Aurora Borealis could light up Island sky

Martha's Vineyard is right on the edge of the region where scientists predict the aurora will be visible. — Photo courtesy of University of Alaska

With a little luck, Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights could be visible from Martha’s Vineyard tonight. The shimmering colored lights, caused by a burst of radiation from the sun, are more common in latitudes much further north. Because of an unusual confluence of solar weather, and predicted clear skies this evening, the aurora could be visible as far south as Massachusetts.

According to the University of Alaska, which forecasts when and where the aurora might occur, the display will be intense across Canada, but could be visible in lower latitudes, too.

“Weather permitting, highly active auroral displays will be visible overhead from Inuvik, Yellowknife, Rankin and Igaluit to Juneau, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Thunder Bay and Sept-Iles, and visible low on the horizon from Seattle, Des Moines, Chicago, Cleveland, Boston, and Halifax,” the university said in its forecast.

Martha’s Vineyard is right on the edge of the predicted viewing region, and the Aurora Borealis phenomenon is unpredictable, so a sighting is far from a sure thing.

Typically, Northern Lights are most visible between 10 pm and 2 am, but could occur anytime after dark. If it is visible here, the aurora will most likely appear for brief periods of time as shimmering green and yellow lights on the northern horizon. The best chance to see the phenomenon is in a place where there is minimal light pollution from nearby street lights and buildings.

The burst of radiation will continue through Friday, but the forecast calls for cloudy skies with a chance of rain tomorrow night.

A coronal mass ejection (CME), or burst of radiation from the sun, was detected coming from the sun on January 7. It is due to begin hitting the earth’s atmosphere today, and continue through Friday night. The radiation is expected to disrupt some radio communications, and affect satellite functions, including global positioning satellite (GPS) technology.

The reason the aurora may be visible over a wider area, is that the CME, while not particularly strong, is aimed directly at the earth. If the solar flare is just a bit stronger than predicted, the lights may be more intense, and visible higher on the horizon.