Look up, skywatchers!
We are well into aurora season, and for the next couple of nights, much of Canada — and even parts of the United States — will be treated to spectacular displays of the northern lights.
Solar wind will be buffeting our atmosphere for the next couple of days, meaning that aurora-spotting hopefuls could have a good show for the rest of the work week.
Where can you see it?
This light show is coming at a great time for viewers in Saskatchewan.
A large ridge is setting up in the upper atmosphere, which will deflect storm systems away from the province.
Although some regions could pick up some stray cloud cover Wednesday night, relatively clear conditions are expected through the rest of the work week and into the start of the weekend.
Tips for viewing the aurora
- Head away from city lights or other sources of light pollution to get the best view.
- Best time to view the aurora is generally between 12 a.m. and 2 a.m., but it depends on the show.
- Dress warmly — clear nights cool off quickly as heat is lost to space.
- Look around at the entire sky, not just the northern horizon — on active nights, the aurora can pop up anywhere.
- IPhone pictures can be hit or miss with the aurora. For the best photos, a tripod is a must. Use a wide-angle lens, low aperture and fast shutter speed with manual focus.
What is the aurora?
The northern lights are caused by the collision of charged particles with molecules in our atmosphere. These collisions release energy in the form of light, which we see in the sky.
The particles largely come from coronal mass ejections from flares and spots on the sun. They are guided toward the Earth by the planet’s magnetic field, which penetrates the atmosphere at the poles. That’s why we see the lights most prominently in those regions.
During geomagnetic storms, the aurora can be seen at lower latitudes, such as through southern Canada or the northern United States.
The dancing colours are a result of the types of gases in our atmosphere. When the stream of energetic particles react with molecular nitrogen — the most common gas in our atmosphere — we see green. Red auroras are caused by a reaction with oxygen.
The aurora colour can also be affected by the altitude in the atmosphere where the lights originate. Red auroras typically occur at higher levels and green auroras happen in…