Northern Lights possible Saturday night over NoVA, DC

WASHINGTON, DC – Skywatchers in northern Virginia and the District of Columbia could get a view of the Northern Lights Saturday night as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued a geomagnetic storm watch for Saturday, noting that the Northern Lights could be visible as far south as North Carolina .

The storm is classified as a “G3” or “strong” on the Space Weather Prediction Center’s five-point scale, and in the past, northern lights have been seen as low as Illinois and Oregon with a storm of that magnitude.

NOAA explains that the stormtrooper was issued in response to a coronal mass ejection on Thursday, which the agency says “are large expulsions of plasma and magnetic fields from the Sun’s corona.”

NOAA

The weather forecast in Baltimore-Washington, DC, the region calls for mostly cloudy skies Saturday night, the National Weather Service said.

Light pollution can make the Northern Lights difficult to spot, and the best bet to see is to get away from the city to a place with unobstructed views of the northern horizon.

A NOAA spokesman told Patch that the storm is expected to start during the day and if it continues, it will be visible at night. The best chance of seeing the Northern Lights will be from Saturday to Sunday, the spokesman said.

The Space Weather Prediction Center has a practical explanation of the conditions needed in a particular place to actually see the Northern Lights. Depending on a viewer’s magnetic latitude, the geomagnetic activity over a three-hour period – measured on a scale from 0-9 – must reach a certain threshold for it to be visible.

The prediction center says that one should choose a city closest to the viewer and note its magnetic latitude. Based on the latitude, the center says that one should check this map to see how high the geomagnetic activity (Kp) should be.

NOAA

For example, the magnetic latitude of the city is closest to Baltimore Washington, DC (9). Kp must be at least 7 for the northern lights to be seen so low. At present, NOAA expects a Kp of between 7 and 9 Saturday night, which should be enough for visibility. Space officials say viewers should check the Kp activity before going out.

However, the Space Weather Prediction Center warns that the sky must also be favorable without interference from the moon or city lights.

Lucas Combos contributed reporting and writing to this report.

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