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Northern Lights May Reappear In Wyoming On Friday

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Photo by: James Ingram

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

A rare sighting of the aurora borealis this week in Wyoming has stirred up some excitement for stargazers. 

But if you missed the Northern lights Wednesday night, you may have another chance Friday or Saturday.

Those who stayed up gazing at the night sky on Wednesday were awarded for their patience by the red and green mists in the atmosphere often referred to as the Northern Lights.

And meteorologist Don Day explained that there may be another chance to catch them this week, as the solar storm that causes the phenomenon isn’t over just yet.

“This is a totally natural phenomenon that comes and goes in terms of strength and intensity throughout the course of the year, but also is directly related to solar activity,” he told Cowboy State Daily. 

Day predicted that at the time the next aurora borealis becomes visible, skies should be clear, but viewers may have to stay up pretty late to catch them.

“The coronal mass ejection will probably return sometime during the early hours of April 2, so that would mean Friday night, Saturday morning,” he said. “For (Friday) night and Saturday morning, I am expecting less clouds. So, there’s no guarantee, but I would say that the chances of them occurring again in Wyoming Friday night, there’s a fairly good chance.”

Every 11 Years

Day explained that every 11 years or so, the cycle of solar activity increases, causing the sun to shoot off flares that cause waves of energy to shoot toward the earth. 

If those waves intersect with the earth’s orbit at just the right time, the ethereal waves of color known as aurora borealis appear.

“In the last year and a half, we have gone into our new solar cycle,” Day said. “And so what has happened is, we’re starting to see more sunspots and they’re getting more active, and we’re getting more and more solar flares.”

Increased solar activity doesn’t just make for pretty pictures, though – it can actually disrupt electronic activity here on Earth. 

Disrupt Electronic Activity

More than 150 years ago, an intense geomagnetic storm caused by solar activity took out telegraph systems across North America and Europe and some operators even received electric shocks. 

In March 1989, a solar storm caused power failures in Canada. And a Halloween storm in 2003 disrupted aviation for over a day because planes couldn’t be accurately tracked.

As recently as February of this year, SpaceX lost more than 40 satellites due to a giant solar storm, impacting customers of the Starlink internet service.

But solar storms that strong are unusual, according to Day. What is more common is the interaction of this highly charged field of energy with the Earth’s magnetosphere and its upper atmosphere. 

“There’s a complex series of reactions that go on that create these visual displays that can be really awesome,” he said. “In the high latitudes, especially when you get up about 60 degrees north latitude, these happen all winter, pretty much almost every night, because that part of the globe is most sensitive to these fields.”

Here in Wyoming, though, and at similar latitudes around the globe, it takes a stronger “coronal mass ejection” (solar flare) to bring the aurora borealis farther south.

“During solar minimums, or during quiet periods, we don’t see these,” said Day. “They are really rare at these lower latitudes.”

Day reported that the Northern Lights were seen as far south as Cheyenne on Wednesday night, but only for an hour, from about 10 p.m. to 11 p.m. 

Be Patient

Another solar flare will result in a possible aurora borealis sighting in Wyoming on Friday and Saturday, Day said.

“There was a big solar flare yesterday that did not cause (Wednesday’s) event, but could cause another event on Saturday,” Day said, explaining that it takes a few days for the wave of energy to travel the 97 million miles from the sun to the earth.

“You’ve got to be patient, and to really see these you’ve got to be in a really dark environment,” he noted. “And the pictures you’re getting are people using their cameras, these digital cameras with long exposures to be able to bring out all the colors in them – but I do know that the folks that saw them up in the northern part of the state did say they could see them with the naked eye.”

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Don Day: Aurora Borealis Will Be Visible Thursday Night, Other Times This Winter

in News/Don Day

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The aurora borealis will be on display for people in northeastern Wyoming on Thursday night, according to Wyoming weatherman Don Day.

Basically, anyone along Interstate 90, which runs in Wyoming from Sundance to through Sheridan and into Montana, has a chance to see the northern lights on Thursday night, once it gets “really dark,” Day said.

“A new solar cycle is starting, which means more sunspots and more potential for flares and coronal mass ejections (large expulsions of plasma and magnetic field from the sun),” Day told Cowboy State Daily on Thursday. “So the likelihood this winter and the following winters of seeing it are better and better.”

Despite predictions that the northern lights would be especially visible over the weekend, sightings were not as widespread as expected. However, photos from Sundance and the Devils Tower area have popped up on social media over the last 24 hours, with some residents and travelers capturing stunning photos of the aurora.

However, the further south someone is in the state, or the larger they city they live in, the less likely they are to see the lights, Day said.

“Only in really strong events will you be able to see the lights in the city,” he said. “It’s happened. I was in Laramie in the late 1980s and you could literally see it, but right now, your best bet to see them is to get away from city lights.”

Meaning people in Cheyenne and Laramie are probably not going to see the lights (at least on Thursday) unless they want to head north.

Day also said that anyone who has a digital camera and wanted to photograph the lights should be sure to have a tripod and to turn on their long exposure settings.

Those who are looking to take a photo of the lights with their cell phone can try out a couple of applications, but again, Day said the key is long exposure settings and a tripod so the camera won’t move.

After Thursday, Day said the lights likely won’t be as visible, if at all, in the northeastern portion of the state until the next solar event, which can’t be predicted.

“The stars have to line up, so to speak,” he said.

However, he did recommend anyone interested in tracking the lights’ visibility use the website spaceweather.com, which he also uses, since it is updated daily.

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Look To The Skies For Northern Lights Sighting Tonight

in News/Good news

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Residents of Cheyenne and southeastern Wyoming will have an opportunity to see the Northern Lights, also known as the aurora borealis, on Tuesday night.

The light show, which rarely is visible in Wyoming, will be high on Tuesday but likely won’t be visible in the state on Wednesday.

To find it, don’t look straight up and expect a laser light show like Laser Floyd or Laser Zeppelin like you might see at a planetarium. Instead the lights will be visible low on the horizon (bring your own music).

The aurora is best seen — here comes the really obvious stuff — from a location with clear, dark skies and the best time to view it will be between 9 p.m. and 3 a.m., the university said.

We have no idea how to capture the show on camera. But the Wyoming Stargazing Club does offer some tips. (It doesn’t help us because all we have is a cardboard disposable camera that we last used in 1997).

How is it possible that we can see the aurora borealis in September? We thought it was a winter thing.

Not so. Again, we look to the Wyoming Stargazing Club for answers. They tell us that the phenomenon can happen any time of year and in Jackson, they’ve witnessed it every month.

The auroral displays will be visible on Tuesday from cities in Canada down to Minneapolis, Minnesota and Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

The aurora borealis is a luminous glow seen around magnetic poles at the northern and southern hemispheres.

The light is caused by collisions between electrically-charged particles in space and oxygen and nitrogen gas in Earth’s atmosphere. Duh.

For more information, check out the University of Alaska-Fairbanks‘ Geophysical Institute.

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