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Northern lights could be visible in Washington this week

Data pix.

Thanks to a minor geomagnetic storm, the northern lights may be visible in parts of the northern United States and across Canada on Wednesday night.

According to NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center, an explosion of solar energy from the sun is set to slam into the Earth Wednesday night. There's nothing to fear from the solar storm; the only issue is potential weak power grid fluctuations.

But a fun side effect will be the aurora borealis activity.

Auroral activity will be high Wednesday night, according to the University of Alaska-Fairbanks Geophysical Institute. The peak times to view the northern lights will be from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m.

"Weather permitting, highly active auroral displays will be visible overhead from Inuvik, Yellowknife, Rankin and Iqaluit to Juneau, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Thunder Bay and Sept-Iles, and visible low on the horizon from Seattle, Des Moines, Chicago, Cleveland, Boston, and Halifax," the institute says on its website.

Incredible Northern lights show from Anacortes over Guemes Island and Mt. Baker (Rakan AlDuaij Photography)

Obviously, a clear sky is needed to see the northern lights. It's also better to view the solar activity in a dark sky, meaning that light pollution and the moon's brightness can limit the ability to see the aurora.

These minor solar storms can last for a few days, so the next few nights look all favorable for seeing the northern lights.

The measure of the strength of solar storms is measured in what’s called the Kp Index that goes from 0-9, where 9 is the strongest. Anything above a 5 is considered a solar storm.

Wednesday night, the forecast is for a 5. The two nights after looks like we’ll see it ramp up to a 6. It happens to coincide with a forecast of clear skies in places where the wind will keep the fog potential away.

For us in Seattle, usually a Kp of 6 or 7 is needed to see the northern lights. While we have a slight chance to see the Aurora Borealis in the city, light pollution doesn’t help. But for folks further north and away from city lights, they could be in for a real treat.

The aurora borealis is created by electrically charged particles from the sun hitting the Earth and colliding with the atmosphere. The collision generates energy, which creates the light that makes the aurora visible.

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