Michigan Residents Could Catch a Glimpse of the Northern Lights This Weekend

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

It's been an eventful year for sky-gazers in the northern U.S. The northern lights—a phenomenon that's normally limited to the Arctic circle—appeared above the country's northern border in March 2019, and then again at the beginning of September. If Michigan residents missed those two light shows in 2019, they'll possibly have another chance to catch the lights on September 27 and September 28, MLive reports.

What causes the northern lights?

The northern lights, or aurora borealis, are caused by particles from the sun reacting to molecules in our planet's atmosphere, "exciting" the gases and making them release photons. At northern latitudes, where magnetic energy and therefore solar energy is the strongest, the reaction is intense enough to produce colorful waves of light that are visible from the ground.

Occasionally, the sun wallops the Earth with enough solar particles to trigger this reaction farther south. The Space Weather Prediction Center projects a G1-G2 geomagnetic storm for this week, with the solar activity potentially producing auroras across most of Michigan.

When to see the northern lights

A G1 solar storm is expected to reach the planet on September 27. By September 28, experts predict it will have evolved into a G2-level storm. So if you plan to be in Michigan this week, Friday and Saturday are the best nights to see the lights. The northern lights are more common over the northern half of the state than the southern part, but in this case, nearly everyone in Michigan should have a shot at catching the spectacle. If it's rainy or cloudy in your area—as is projected for some places in Michigan this weekend—the lights will be harder to see. You will also be disappointed if you look up from Detroit, Grand Rapids, or any other metro area with significant light pollution in the state.

[h/t MLive]

How to Catch the Transits of Mercury and the 'Demon Star' This Month

Allexxandar/iStock via Getty Images
Allexxandar/iStock via Getty Images

This month's sky-gazing event calendar is all about transits. In astronomy, a transit occurs when one celestial body appears to pass directly in front of another in the night sky, causing the light from one body to diminish in some cases. As Geek reports, there are two main transits to look out for in November: that of Mercury moving across the sun and the dimming and brightening of the "demon star" Algol.

What is a Mercury transit?

Mercury is currently in retrograde (though you shouldn't blame that for any chaos in your personal life). As the innermost planet travels "backwards" across the sky this month, it will make a rare detour past the face of the sun on November 11. Mercury's transit across the sun is something that only happens roughly 13 times every 100 years. Such an event won't be seen again in the U.S. until 2049.

This time around, it will take Mercury about five and a half hours—starting just after sunrise on the East Coast—to make the full journey from one end of the bright yellow disc to the other.

What is a "demon star" transit?

The transit of Algol, also known as the demon star, is a much more common event, but it's no less spectacular. Algol is really two stars in the constellation Perseus that are constantly orbiting each other. Every 2.86736 days, the smaller star of the pair passes in front of the larger star, making it appear slightly dimmer for 10 hours at a time. In the first half of the month, most of these transits occur after sunset on the East Coast, which is the best time to observe the transition. The next is set for November 9 at 3:17 a.m. EST, with the one after that taking place on November 12, six minutes after midnight.

Algol gets its monstrous nickname from a classic villain of Greek mythology. The star is supposed to resemble the winking, snake-haired head of the gorgon Medusa, who was slain by Perseus. Algol is a name derived from an Arabic word meaning "the demon's head."

How to see Mercury's and Algol's transits

To see both of these events, you'll need some special equipment. Looking directly at the sun is never a good idea, and NASA recommends using a telescope with a certified sun filter to watch Mercury's transit safely on November 11. A solar projection box or sun funnel would also allow you to observe the planet's passage without damaging your eyes.

There's no harm in looking straight at the twin stars that make up Algol, but you'll have trouble seeing them "blink" with your naked eye. For that event, a regular telescope or binoculars would do.

[h/t Geek]

The Orionid Meteor Shower Will Peak on Monday Night

jk78/iStock via Getty Images
jk78/iStock via Getty Images

If you missed Halley's Comet's last trip through the inner solar system in 1986, you'll have to wait a while to catch its next appearance. The comet is only visible from Earth every 75 to 76 years. Though the comet itself is elusive, the debris from its tail lights up the night sky on a regular basis. To view the Orionid meteor shower when it peaks today—Monday, October 21, 2019—here's what you need to know.

What Are the Orionids?

As Halley's Comet propels through our solar system, it drags a trail of rocks and dust behind it. The tail is vast enough to a leave thick band of space debris in its wake. Every October, our planet passes through this rocky field, producing brilliant "shooting stars" as the meteors burn up in the atmosphere. From Earth, the meteor shower appears to originate from the constellation Orion, which is how it got its name.

When to See the Orionid Meteor Shower

The Orionids are visible from Earth starting in the beginning of October, but they don't peak until the latter half of the month. This year, the meteor shower will be brightest the night of Monday, October 21 and the morning of Tuesday, October 22. The moon will be around its last quarter phase at this time, which means that bright skies could wash out the light show for many. But if you wait until the hours leading up to dawn, when the moon sets and skies are darkest, you may be able to spot the shower.

To see it, make sure you're in an area with clear, open skies and minimal light pollution. Whether you live in the Northern or Southern hemispheres, you should be able to experience the phenomena if conditions are optimal.

[h/t Newsweek]

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