Northern Lights Could Be Visible Over Parts of America This Weekend

Wiltser/iStock via Getty Images
Wiltser/iStock via Getty Images

After giving us some of the best meteor showers and moon events of the year, August is closing with its greatest spectacle yet. As Forbes reports, the northern lights will be visible over several northern U.S. states in the lower 48 this weekend, including Maine, Wisconsin, and Michigan.

What causes the northern lights

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) forecasts G1 and G2 geomagnetic storms for August 31 and September 1, 2019. The aurora borealis is caused by solar particles colliding with gas molecules in the atmosphere. As electrons from the sun come in contact with oxygen and nitrogen, they transfer some of their energy to the gases. The colorful ribbons of light we observe from the ground are these molecules calming down and releasing photons into the sky.

Normally the phenomenon is only visible at northernmost latitudes where the Earth's magnetic field, and therefore levels of solar energy, are strongest. But the upcoming geomagnetic storm is expected to hit the Earth with a concentrated dose of solar particles, potentially causing the northern lights to appear farther south than usual.

Where and when to see the northern lights

The first solar storm of the weekend is predicted for Saturday, August 31, and the second is expected to reach Earth on Sunday. If these forecasts are correct, states spanning the U.S.-Canada border are in for a treat. Washington, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Maine all fall within the light show's projected path.

As is the case with any nighttime spectacle, the best time to catch the northern lights is when skies are darkest. That means waiting until late at night or early in the morning to look up, and finding a spot that isn't washed out by light pollution is key. Luckily, the solar storms are following the super new moon on August 30, so skies will be especially dark this weekend.

[h/t Forbes]

Mark Your Calendars: The Lyrid Meteor Shower Is Coming

Daniel Reinhardt, Getty Images
Daniel Reinhardt, Getty Images

If you've grown tired of Zoom meetings, Netflix parties, and livestreams, take a break from staring at your screens to look up at the sky. Starting in April, the Lyrid meteor shower will make its annual appearance. Here's what you need to know to see the spectacle from wherever you're quarantined.

What are the Lyrids?

With written evidence of the event dating back to China around 690 BCE, the Lyrids are one of the oldest meteor showers on record. The light show occurs when our planet passes through the tail of the comet C/1861 G1 Thatcher, causing its rocky debris to burn up in the atmosphere.

From Earth, the Lyrids appear to originate from the constellation Lyra, which rises above the northeastern horizon after dusk, and the meteor shower borrows its name from the constellation. The Lyrids aren't as active as some other annual showers, usually maxing out at just 20 shooting stars per hour on peak nights. But patient spectators are sometimes rewarded: The event has been known to have outbursts of up to 100 meteors in a single hour. Such surges are rare and random, so all sky-gazers can do is look up at peak times and hope to get lucky.

How to See the Lyrid Meteor Shower

The Lyrids start every year around April 16, but your best chance at seeing them comes later in the month. Late April 21 through early April 22, the meteor shower is predicted to reach peak activity. Following that period, the shooting stars from the shower will become less frequent before finally fizzling out around April 25.

The Lyrids may be easier to spot in 2020 than in recent years. Since businesses closed and people started sheltering in their homes, there has been a slight dip in light and air pollution. Those darker, clearer skies will create better conditions for spotting shooting stars in some parts of the country. As always, waiting until skies are darkest—in the hours around midnight, typically—is the best way to boost your chances of seeing as many meteors as possible.

A Super Pink Moon—the Biggest Supermoon of 2020—Is Coming In April

April's super pink moon will be extra big and bright (but still white).
April's super pink moon will be extra big and bright (but still white).
jakkapan21/iStock via Getty Images

The sky has already given us several spectacular reasons to look up this year. In addition to a few beautiful full moons, we’ve also gotten opportunities to see the moon share a “kiss” with Venus and even make Mars briefly disappear.

In early April, avid sky-gazers are in for another treat—a super pink moon, the biggest supermoon of 2020. This full moon is considered a supermoon because it coincides with the moon’s perigee, or the point in the moon’s monthly orbit when it’s closest to Earth. According to EarthSky, the lunar perigee occurs on April 7 at 2:08 p.m. EST, and the peak of the full moon follows just hours later, at 10:35 p.m. EST.

How a supermoon is different.

Since the super pink moon will be closer to Earth than any other full moon this year, it will be 2020’s biggest and brightest. It’s also the second of three consecutive supermoons, sandwiched between March’s worm moon and May’s flower moon. Because supermoons only appear about 7 percent bigger and 15 percent brighter than regular full moons, you might not notice a huge difference—but even the most ordinary full moon is pretty breathtaking, so the super pink moon is worth an upward glance when night falls on April 7.

The meaning of pink moon.

Despite its name, the super pink moon will still shine with a normal golden-white glow. As The Old Farmer’s Almanac explains, April’s full moon derives its misleading moniker from an eastern North American wildflower called Phlox subulata, or moss pink, that usually blooms in early April. It’s also called the paschal moon, since its timing helps the Catholic Church set the date for Easter (the word paschal means “of or relating to Easter”).

[h/t EarthSky]

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