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This week presents a rare astronomical event: the northern lights will be visible to a large swathe of the United States. According to the latest forecast from the Space Weather Prediction Center, the Aurora Borealis can be spotted from the Pacific Northwest to New England and as far south as northern Illinois, New York, and Pennsylvania.
Why this Matters: Many travel to witness the Aurora in person, yet countries where one can usually travel to in order to see the spectacular northern lights— like Iceland, Finland, and Sweden — are currently banning tourists to avoid increased risks in the coronavirus pandemic.
A Rare Sight
These northern lights are the result of a coronal mass ejection on December 7, which disseminated plasma and magnetic fields toward earth. Because of this, a geomagnetic storm is on its way. NOAA’s Geomagnetic Storm Index, which measures the magnitude of solar activity, predicts a Planetary K Index of 7 out of 9 with G3 storm levels. This storm is strong enough to bring the northern lights further south than normal. The sun recently started an 11-year cycle of activity, which will peak in 2025, but will cause solar flares to be much stronger and more common, meaning that if you miss the aurora this time around, it’s likely that you’ll have another chance to see the northern lights at a lower latitude than normal.
Moreover, the northern lights aren’t the only celestial events happening this month. The Geminid meteor shower will be at its strongest next week, and Jupiter and Saturn make their closest visible approach to Earth since the Middle Ages on December 21.
A Quick Tip
If you want to see the northern lights for yourself, get out of areas with high light pollution, and look north towards the horizon. The farther north you go, the more likely it is for you to see the aurora, as long as there aren’t too many clouds blocking your view.
NASA launched a new ocean observation satellite on the back of a SpaceX rocket last week. Now that it’s in space, the Sentinel-6 named the “Michael Freilich” will perform continuous monitoring of ocean levels and currents for the next 30 years. The “unprecedented accuracy” of its data will benefit ocean travel, weather forecasts, hurricane predictions, and climate science.
Why This Matters: The Sentinel-6 will help scientists monitor the climate crisis as it unfolds in our world’s oceans and coasts (home to 40% of humanity).
Baby Yoda is the Crew-1 astronauts' zero gravity indicator pic.twitter.com/XEshbkl1VT — Michael Sheetz (@thesheetztweetz) November 16, 2020 The most famous member of the Space Shuttle crew is an alien TV star! The new astronaut crew aboard the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft safely docked with the International Space Station late Monday. Way cool, but all anyone could […]
In a tweet last Friday, the Republican Party boasted about President Trump’s agenda “fighting for you” in his second term, which included establishing a permanent human presence on the moon, sending astronauts to visit Mars, infrastructure, and high-speed internet nationwide (in that order). As if these things were remotely comparable! And maybe they should consider […]
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