Lucky residents across 17 states can catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights this week, all thanks to a solar storm. The Northern Lights, or “aurora borealis,” are a rare sight for many people across most of the country, as the visual phenomenon is most often seen in Canada, Alaska, and Scandinavia. Due to an 11-year solar cycle that’s expected to peak in 2024, the lights will be visible in places farther south, the Associated Press reports.
Northern Lights are the result of magnetic solar wind slamming into the Earth’s magnetic field, which causes atoms in the upper atmosphere to glow. The lights appear suddenly and the intensity varies. As an example, the geomagnetic index known as Kp ranks auroral activity on a scale from zero (not active) to nine (bright and active). The Geophysical Institute has forecast “Kp 6” for Thursday’s storm, according to the AP.
While adventurers often travel to the artic regions of the world to see the lights, residents across Alaska, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, New York, New Hampshire, Vermont, Indiana, Maine and Maryland can expect auroral activity on Thursday, according to the Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks. Light displays are expected to be visible overhead in Milwaukee, Minneapolis and Helena, Montana, and low on the horizon in Salem, Oregon.; Boise, Idaho; Cheyenne, Wyoming; Annapolis, Maryland; and Indianapolis, the institute reported.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) has published aurora viewing tips for the spectators of the skies, with a few essentials to keep in mind:
Location is Key: Go towards the magnetic poles. Find a place where you can see to the north (or south if you are in the southern hemisphere). Given the right vantage point, on top of a hill in the northern hemisphere with an unobstructed view toward the north for example, a person can see aurora even when it is 1000 km (600 miles) farther north.
Go in the Dark: Go out at night and get away from city lights. The full moon will also diminish the apparent brightness of the aurora (not the actual brightness).
Timing is Everything: The best aurora is usually within an hour or two of midnight, between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. local time). These hours of active aurora expand towards evening and morning as the level of geomagnetic activity increases. There may be aurora in the evening and morning but it is usually not as active and therefore, not as visually appealing.
Standards Help Capture the Northern Lights Experience
Spectators can enhance their views of the lights with a trusty set of binoculars, supported by the international standard ISO 14133-1:2016, Optics and photonics - Specifications for binoculars, monoculars and spotting scopes - Part 1: General purpose instruments. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) Technical Committee (TC) 172, Optics and photonics, Subcommittee (SC) 4, Telescopic systems developed the standard. The Optics and Electro-Optics Standards Council administers the ANSI-accredited U.S. Technical Advisory Group (TAG) to ISO TC 172 SC 4, carrying U.S. positions forward.
People with the best views might want to capture the image forever—and have bragging rights among friends and family—with a camera. The U.S. holds the secretariat of ISO TC 42, Photography, which is responsible for various standards and projects related to photography, including the methods for measuring, testing, rating, packaging, labelling, specifying and classifying the dimensions, physical properties, and performance characteristics of media, materials, and devices used in chemical and electronic still imaging. As an example, ISO-5:2009—Parts 1-6, relate to the density measurements of photography and graphic technology. ANSI administers the U.S. TAG to ISO TC 42.
For the viewers who’d rather sit back and relax to see the lights from their screens at home, there are standards that support them too. CSA C382-11, Energy performance of television and displays, specifies the test method for measuring the energy performance and defines the performance requirements of displays with a viewable screen size greater than or equal to 75 cm (30 in) diagonal and of televisions of all sizes. CSA C382-11 was developed by CSA Group, an ANSI member and accredited standards developer.
Read more about the Northern Lights.