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Space Weather Will Create Rare Northern Lights In Colorado

An aurora as seen over the Poker Flat Research Range north of Fairbanks, Alaska.

Skies across Colorado will offer a rare opportunity for seeing the Northern Lights — typically seen in places like Canada and Alaska. The impetus for this natural phenomenon comes from a powerful geomagnetic storm caused by an eruption from the sun.

On Earth, it could affect how some industries do business.

Agriculture may not have access to high precision GPS equipment because of changes in the earth’s magnetic field. In the air, airline pilots may have to reroute flights.

“Airlines that would typically fly over the North Pole… they’re rerouting from the polar latitudes because they want to make sure their communication ability is unaffected so they’re flying more southernly,” said Joe Kunches, a space scientist with the federal Space Weather Prediction Center.

The solar activity also delayed the launch of a private cargo ship to the International Space Station.

Kunches said the sun has an 11-year cycle of activity and it’s now in a phase called “solar maximum,” which means there are more solar mass ejections that can affect the earth.

“We’re in one of those years, we’re in a time when the sun is erupting in a powerful way,” he said. “But even in those years, to get the Auroras to come as far south as where we are [in Colorado] is a fairly rare occurrence.”

Last March, a NASA crew member aboard the International Space Station captured a night picture of the Northern Lights over Colorado — only visible from space.

Can’t make it to orbit? The Northern Lights are best viewed away from city lights. Kunches suggests checking NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction site before heading out, and bringing along a digital camera to capture images.

“Modern cameras are way more sensitive to the low levels of light than our eyes can be. So if you’re really interested in trying to capture the Aurora, go out look for yourself but also if you have a digital camera, use that as well.”

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