Chance for northern lights over Minnesota Thursday

MARSHALL — Minnesotans could have a chance to see the northern lights in the sky this week, if conditions are right.

While reports from around the state say it’s not certain if the aurora borealis will be visible Thursday, there’s still a possibility.

“I would say chances are quite good of seeing an auroral display in our northern sky right here (southern Minnesota),” said Ken Murphy, professor of physics at Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall.

Murphy said the Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska has issued a geomagnetic storm watch for Thursday. It’s the kind of activity that can create a northern lights display.

“The chances are great enough that anyone interested in catching them should get outside after dark with a clear view of the northern sky,” he said.

Murphy said there are 17 U.S. states where the aurora could possibly be seen Thursday, going south as far as southern South Dakota and maybe into Nebraska. At the same time, Minnesota media including the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported Tuesday that experts aren’t certain whether the state will see much aurora activity.

The University of Alaska at Fairbanks uses a nine-point scale to forecast when auroral displays will be visible, the Star Tribune reported. The watch for Thursday put cities including Minneapolis at a 6 out of 9 points. Murphy said this means a “quite high” chance to see the aurora.

The northern and southern lights are caused by outbursts of energy from the sun, Murphy said. If the Earth is in the path of these outbursts, charged particles collide with the Earth’s upper atmosphere, leading to a colorful light show.

“This will be our third solar outburst since 2019,” Murphy said. He said the sun goes through an 11-year cycle of activity, going from being highly active to quiet. “The sun will reach solar maximum in 2024, so there may be more opportunities to see more of these events in the months to come,” Murphy said.

If conditions are right for an auroral display, Murphy said the best way to see it would be to go outside after dark, somewhere with a view of the northern sky.

“Anyone living in town will stand a much better chance of seeing it by driving out into the country,” Murphy said. “The best time is right after it’s good and dark.”

The National Weather Service forecast for southern Minnesota says that, while Thursday will be sunny, we may see a chance of showers and thunderstorms Thursday night. Cloud cover and smoke from Canadian wildfires factor into the chances of seeing the aurora borealis, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported.


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