A Solar Storm Could Make the Northern Lights Visible Over Parts of the U.S. Tonight

Jonathan Nackstrand, AFP/Getty Images
Jonathan Nackstrand, AFP/Getty Images

You don't need to take a trip above the Arctic Circle to see the Northern Lights in person. If you live in the northern U.S., you may be able to witness the meteorological phenomenon tonight from your backyard. As Madison, Wisconsin's WKOW reports, a geomagnetic storm could make the aurora borealis visible over the states bordering Canada late Monday night and early Tuesday morning.

Auroras are the result of electrons carried by solar winds reacting to gases in the Earth's atmosphere. Our planet's magnetic field amplifies this effect, which is why the colorful light show typically occurs over the two poles where magnetic energy is most concentrated.

On some occasions, the magnetic field is disrupted in such a way that makes the Northern Lights visible at lower latitudes. That may be the case tonight when a solar storm temporarily alters the magnetic field over the upper contiguous states, according to the Space Weather Prediction Center.

To catch the rare spectacle, step outside sometime late Monday night or early Tuesday morning. Areas with clear northern horizons and minimal light pollution will be the best spots to scope out the lights. And clear skies are forecast for states like Wisconsin tonight, making your chances of seeing them even better.

The Northern Lights are unpredictable, but there's a whole industry built around helping tourists spot them. If you pay $1970 for this cruise, for example, you're guaranteed to see the lights or your next trip is free. Keep that in mind if you miss them this time around.

[h/t WKOW]

Wednesday’s Best Amazon Deals Include Computer Monitors, Plant-Based Protein Powder, and Blu-ray Sets

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As a recurring feature, our team combs the web and shares some amazing Amazon deals we’ve turned up. Here’s what caught our eye today, December 2. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers, including Amazon, and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Good luck deal hunting!

Don't Miss Saturn And Jupiter's Great Conjunction on the Winter Solstice

Paul Williams, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
Paul Williams, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

In 2020, skygazers were treated to meteor showers, a new comet, and a Halloween blue moon. One of the last major astronomical events of the year is set to fall on the night of the winter solstice. On December 21, look up to catch Saturn in conjunction with Jupiter.

What is the conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter?

In astronomy, a conjunction occurs when two planets appear exceptionally close in the night sky. Two of our solar system's gas giants will share a celestial "kiss" on the longest night of the year. The rare meeting of Saturn and Jupiter is known as the "great conjunction" by astronomers.

Though conjunctions between the planets are fairly common, Saturn and Jupiter only get together once in a generation. Their last conjunction happened 20 years ago in the year 2000. Even if you were around for the last one, 2020's planetary meet-up is worth catching. Saturn and Jupiter will come within 0.1° of each other, or about one-fifth the width of a full moon. The last time the two planets came that close was in 1653, and they won't match that proximity again until 2080.

How to see the conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter

Saturn and Jupiter have been inching closer throughout October and November. You can find them now by looking for Jupiter, currently the brightest planet in the night sky, right after sunset. Saturn will appear just east of Jupiter as a dimmer planet with a golden hue.

As autumn wanes, the two planets will gradually bridge the space between them until they reach conjunction on winter solstice. On Monday, December 21, the planets will be so close that they may form a coalescence. That happens when the light from two planets appear to shine as a single star. When that happens, the super-bright body will be easy to spot.