Seeing the northern lights in the United States would be a dream come true for many American stargazers. After all, the gorgeous sights usually don't appear in any state but Alaska — along with more northern countries like Canada, Sweden, and Norway. But tonight, those of us on the continental United States just might get a chance to get in on the fun, too.
A minor solar storm will reach Earth on March 14, which could possibly amplify the northern lights and make them visible to an audience living a littler further south than usual — but not too far south. States in the "northern tier" of the United States — including Michigan and Maine — could potentially see the northern lights in this amped-up display, according to the Space Weather Prediction Center. This minor storm is expected to last just until March 15, so the time to look up is tonight and tonight only.
What are the northern lights?
The northern lights — also known as aurora borealis — are a natural phenomenon caused by energetic particles from the sun. According to NASA, these particles can speed out from the sun in the form of a solar wind or eruption, and after a two- or three-day trip toward Earth, they can cause the release of other particles already trapped near Earth. This release collides with our atmosphere, causing a glorious reaction — the beaming display of light.
As for the pretty colors, the specific variety for every set of northern lights depends on what particles are reacting. For example, when the particles collide with oxygen, they usually produce a yellow or green color, whereas collisions with nitrogen typically produce red, violet, and blue colors. The way that the particles collide and the altitude at which they appear can also have an effect on the colors we see.
Only time will tell what colors the newest northern lights will be — and who will be lucky enough to spot them. But one thing's for sure: Those who see them for the first time are practically guaranteed to be starstruck — literally. Who would want to miss that?