Northern Lights Could Be Visible Over Parts of America This Weekend

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

After giving us some of the best meteor showers and moon events of the year, August is closing with its greatest spectacle yet. As Forbes reports, the northern lights will be visible over several northern U.S. states in the lower 48 this weekend, including Maine, Wisconsin, and Michigan.

What causes the northern lights

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) forecasts G1 and G2 geomagnetic storms for August 31 and September 1, 2019. The aurora borealis is caused by solar particles colliding with gas molecules in the atmosphere. As electrons from the sun come in contact with oxygen and nitrogen, they transfer some of their energy to the gases. The colorful ribbons of light we observe from the ground are these molecules calming down and releasing photons into the sky.

Normally the phenomenon is only visible at northernmost latitudes where the Earth's magnetic field, and therefore levels of solar energy, are strongest. But the upcoming geomagnetic storm is expected to hit the Earth with a concentrated dose of solar particles, potentially causing the northern lights to appear farther south than usual.

Where and when to see the northern lights

The first solar storm of the weekend is predicted for Saturday, August 31, and the second is expected to reach Earth on Sunday. If these forecasts are correct, states spanning the U.S.-Canada border are in for a treat. Washington, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Maine all fall within the light show's projected path.

As is the case with any nighttime spectacle, the best time to catch the northern lights is when skies are darkest. That means waiting until late at night or early in the morning to look up, and finding a spot that isn't washed out by light pollution is key. Luckily, the solar storms are following the super new moon on August 30, so skies will be especially dark this weekend.

[h/t Forbes]

How to See Venus and the Moon Share a ‘Kiss’ in a Rare Astronomical Event This Week

Mike Hewitt/iStock via Getty Images
Mike Hewitt/iStock via Getty Images

Venus is visible in the evening or morning sky for most of the year, but this Thursday, the second planet from the sun won't be alone in its spot above the horizon. As Travel + Leisure reports, Venus, also known as the "evening star," will appear right next to a crescent moon following the sunset on February 27, resulting in a rare celestial "kiss."

Why will Venus be close to the moon?

Venus is often among the first "stars" to become visible at twilight (though it's really a planet), and it's the brightest object in the night sky aside from the moon. Between January 1 and May 24, it shines brightly above the western horizon. For a few weeks in early May and late June, Venus is washed out by the light of the sun, and from June 13 to December 31, it's easiest to see in the eastern sky around sunrise.

This week, Venus will be in the perfect position to share a "kiss" with the night's brightest object. All the planets, including Venus, appear to traverse the same path across the night sky called the ecliptic. The moon follows a similar trajectory, and on some nights, the celestial body seems to come very close to the planets that also occupy the plane. This effect is just an illusion; while they will appear to be nearly touching on Thursday, the moon will actually be 249,892 miles from Earth on February 27, while Venus will be 84 million miles away.

The Moon just entered its "new" phase on Sunday, and it will only be partially illuminated by the time it meets up with Venus. The waxing crescent moon will rise in the perfect position in the western sky on Thursday to create a joint spectacle with our planetary neighbor.

When to see Venus and the moon "kiss"

The kiss between the moon and Venus can be spotted in the hours after sunset on Thursday, February 27. When you notice it getting dark, head outside and look to the southwest horizon if you live in the Northern Hemisphere. That will give you your best chance at catching the special event. If you miss it this week, you won't have to wait long for your next opportunity to see the Moon kiss Venus: The two bodies will return to a similar position on March 28, 2020.

[h/t Travel + Leisure]

The Moon Will Make Mars Disappear Next Week

Take a break from stargazing to watch the moon swallow Mars on February 18.
Take a break from stargazing to watch the moon swallow Mars on February 18.
Pitris/iStock via Getty Images

On Tuesday, February 18, the moon will float right in front of Mars, completely obscuring it from view.

The moon covers Mars relatively often—according to Sky & Telescope, it will happen five times this year alone—but we don’t always get to see it from Earth. Next week, however, residents of North America can look up to see what’s called a lunar occultation in action. The moon's orbit will bring it between Earth and Mars, allowing the moon to "swallow" the Red Planet over the course of 14 seconds. Mars will stay hidden for just under 90 minutes, and then reemerge from behind the moon.

Depending on where you live, you might have to set your alarm quite a bit earlier than you usually do in order to catch the show. In general, people in eastern parts of the country will see Mars disappear a little later; in Phoenix, for example, it’ll happen at 4:37:27 a.m., Chicagoans can watch it at 6:07:10 a.m., and New Yorkers might even already be awake when the moon swallows Mars at 7:36:37 a.m.

If you can’t help but hit the snooze button, you can skip the disappearing act (also called immersion) and wait for Mars to reappear on the other side of the moon (called emersion). Emersion times vary based on location, too, but they’re around an hour and a half later than immersion times on average. You can check the specific times for hundreds of cities across the country here [PDF].

Since it takes only 14 seconds for Mars to fully vanish (or reemerge), punctuality is a necessity—and so is optical aid. Mars won’t be bright enough for you to see it with your naked eye, so Sky & Telescope recommends looking skyward through binoculars or a telescope.

Thinking of holding an early-morning viewing party on Tuesday? Here are 10 riveting facts about Mars that you can use to impress your guests.

[h/t Sky & Telescope]

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