A Solar Storm Could Make the Northern Lights Visible Over Parts of the U.S. Tonight

Jonathan Nackstrand, AFP/Getty Images
Jonathan Nackstrand, AFP/Getty Images

You don't need to take a trip above the Arctic Circle to see the Northern Lights in person. If you live in the northern U.S., you may be able to witness the meteorological phenomenon tonight from your backyard. As Madison, Wisconsin's WKOW reports, a geomagnetic storm could make the aurora borealis visible over the states bordering Canada late Monday night and early Tuesday morning.

Auroras are the result of electrons carried by solar winds reacting to gases in the Earth's atmosphere. Our planet's magnetic field amplifies this effect, which is why the colorful light show typically occurs over the two poles where magnetic energy is most concentrated.

On some occasions, the magnetic field is disrupted in such a way that makes the Northern Lights visible at lower latitudes. That may be the case tonight when a solar storm temporarily alters the magnetic field over the upper contiguous states, according to the Space Weather Prediction Center.

To catch the rare spectacle, step outside sometime late Monday night or early Tuesday morning. Areas with clear northern horizons and minimal light pollution will be the best spots to scope out the lights. And clear skies are forecast for states like Wisconsin tonight, making your chances of seeing them even better.

The Northern Lights are unpredictable, but there's a whole industry built around helping tourists spot them. If you pay $1970 for this cruise, for example, you're guaranteed to see the lights or your next trip is free. Keep that in mind if you miss them this time around.

[h/t WKOW]

See What Hurricane Florence Looks Like From Space

NASA via Getty Images
NASA via Getty Images

As Hurricane Florence continues to creep its way toward the Carolinas, it’s repeatedly being described as both "the storm of the century” and "the storm of a lifetime” for parts of the coastlines of North and South Carolina. While that may sound like hyperbole to some, Alexander Gerst—an astronaut with the European Space Agency—took to Twitter to prove otherwise with a few amazing photos, and issued a warning to “Watch out, America!”

According to the National Weather Service, “Hurricane Florence will be approaching the Carolina shores as the day progresses on Thursday. Although the exact timing, location, and eventual track of Florence isn't known, local impacts will likely begin in the afternoon hours and only worsen with time throughout the evening and overnight period.”

On Tuesday, Wilmington, North Carolina's National Weather Service took the warning even one step further, writing: "This will likely be the storm of a lifetime for portions of the Carolina coast, and that's saying a lot given the impacts we've seen from Hurricanes Diana, Hugo, Fran, Bonnie, Floyd, and Matthew. I can't emphasize enough the potential for unbelievable damage from wind, storm surge, and inland flooding with this storm.”

Gerst’s photos certainly drive that point home.

Is Pluto a Planet After All? A New Argument Emerges

iStock
iStock

It’s been a tumultuous few years for Pluto. The dwarf planet, first discovered in 1930 by astronomer Clyde Tombaugh, was stripped of its more esteemed planet status in 2006 by the International Astronomical Union (IAU) because its orbit overlapped that of Neptune. A new set of IAU criteria mandated that a planet must orbit the sun, be spherical as a result of gravity, and "clear" the "neighborhood" around its orbit, asserting itself as the dominant presence. Pluto met the first and second edicts but not the third, relegating it to the lesser dwarf planet designation.

That declaration led to an ongoing debate over whether Pluto really earned its demotion. The newest and potentially most compelling argument comes courtesy of a paper from researchers at the University of Central Florida's Space Institute and published in the planetary science journal Icarus. In it, first author Philip Metzger asserts that no one since 1802 has used the cleared-space argument to define a planet. Referring to the IAU's definition as "sloppy," Metzger and his co-authors point out that no one else has separated asteroids from planets by using the clearing mandate. Planets, the paper argues, should not be held to dynamic descriptions of bodies that may change over time.

"We now have a list of well over 100 recent examples of planetary scientists using the word planet in a way that violates the IAU definition, but they are doing it because it's functionally useful," Metzger said in a statement. "It's a sloppy definition. They didn't say what they meant by clearing their orbit. If you take that literally, then there are no planets, because no planet clears its orbit."

Metzger is advocating instead for a planet obtaining its status due to being large enough to achieve a gravity-influenced spherical shape that activates geological changes.

Speaking with CNN, IAU spokesperson Lars Lindberg Christensen indicated a motion could be put forward to have the group reevaluate the classification but that no one had yet done so.

Whatever Pluto is or may one day become, it was a planet to Tombaugh, who wasn't around long enough to experience the reclassification. He died in 1997. In 2015, his ashes, attached to the New Horizons space probe, entered Pluto's orbit after nine years of travel.

[h/t Science Alert]

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