Michigan Residents Could Catch a Glimpse of the Northern Lights This Weekend

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

It's been an eventful year for sky-gazers in the northern U.S. The northern lights—a phenomenon that's normally limited to the Arctic circle—appeared above the country's northern border in March 2019, and then again at the beginning of September. If Michigan residents missed those two light shows in 2019, they'll possibly have another chance to catch the lights on September 27 and September 28, MLive reports.

What causes the northern lights?

The northern lights, or aurora borealis, are caused by particles from the sun reacting to molecules in our planet's atmosphere, "exciting" the gases and making them release photons. At northern latitudes, where magnetic energy and therefore solar energy is the strongest, the reaction is intense enough to produce colorful waves of light that are visible from the ground.

Occasionally, the sun wallops the Earth with enough solar particles to trigger this reaction farther south. The Space Weather Prediction Center projects a G1-G2 geomagnetic storm for this week, with the solar activity potentially producing auroras across most of Michigan.

When to see the northern lights

A G1 solar storm is expected to reach the planet on September 27. By September 28, experts predict it will have evolved into a G2-level storm. So if you plan to be in Michigan this week, Friday and Saturday are the best nights to see the lights. The northern lights are more common over the northern half of the state than the southern part, but in this case, nearly everyone in Michigan should have a shot at catching the spectacle. If it's rainy or cloudy in your area—as is projected for some places in Michigan this weekend—the lights will be harder to see. You will also be disappointed if you look up from Detroit, Grand Rapids, or any other metro area with significant light pollution in the state.

[h/t MLive]

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]

A Snow Moon Will Light Up February Skies

makasana, iStock via Getty Images
makasana, iStock via Getty Images

February is the snowiest month of the year in many parts of the U.S., but on February 9, consider braving the weather outside to look up at the sky. That Sunday morning, the only full snow moon of the year will be visible. Here's what you need to know about the celestial event.

What is a snow moon?

If you keep track of the phases of the moon, you may already know that the full moon of each month has its own special name. Following January's wolf moon lunar eclipse is a snow moon in February. The name snow moon is said to have originated with Native American tribes, and it refers to the heavy snowfall that hits many parts of North America in February.

According to The Old Farmer's Almanac, different tribes had different names for February's full moon. The Wishram people named it the shoulder to shoulder around the fire moon and the Cherokee people called it the bone moon because animal bones were sometimes their only source of nutrition in the dead of winter. Snow moon is the name that's most commonly used by almanacs today.

When to See the Snow Moon

The moon will enter its next full phase the morning of Sunday, February 9. The snow moon will be at its fullest at 2:34 a.m. EST, but if you're not willing to stay up that late, it's still worth looking up. The previous evening—Saturday, February 8—the moon will be 99 percent illuminated on the East Coast. Check your local weather forecast and find a spot with clear skies to get the best view of the wintertime spectacle.

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