Northern Lights Could Be Visible Over Parts of America This Weekend

Wiltser/iStock via Getty Images
Wiltser/iStock via Getty Images

After giving us some of the best meteor showers and moon events of the year, August is closing with its greatest spectacle yet. As Forbes reports, the northern lights will be visible over several northern U.S. states in the lower 48 this weekend, including Maine, Wisconsin, and Michigan.

What causes the northern lights

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) forecasts G1 and G2 geomagnetic storms for August 31 and September 1, 2019. The aurora borealis is caused by solar particles colliding with gas molecules in the atmosphere. As electrons from the sun come in contact with oxygen and nitrogen, they transfer some of their energy to the gases. The colorful ribbons of light we observe from the ground are these molecules calming down and releasing photons into the sky.

Normally the phenomenon is only visible at northernmost latitudes where the Earth's magnetic field, and therefore levels of solar energy, are strongest. But the upcoming geomagnetic storm is expected to hit the Earth with a concentrated dose of solar particles, potentially causing the northern lights to appear farther south than usual.

Where and when to see the northern lights

The first solar storm of the weekend is predicted for Saturday, August 31, and the second is expected to reach Earth on Sunday. If these forecasts are correct, states spanning the U.S.-Canada border are in for a treat. Washington, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Maine all fall within the light show's projected path.

As is the case with any nighttime spectacle, the best time to catch the northern lights is when skies are darkest. That means waiting until late at night or early in the morning to look up, and finding a spot that isn't washed out by light pollution is key. Luckily, the solar storms are following the super new moon on August 30, so skies will be especially dark this weekend.

[h/t Forbes]

A Huge Full Hunter’s Moon Will Light Up The Sky This Weekend

Chayanan/iStock via Getty Images
Chayanan/iStock via Getty Images

This weekend’s full moon will likely draw your eye even more than a regular one does.

Newsweek reports that what’s known as the full hunter’s moon—the first full moon after the harvest moon—will rise right around sunset, making it seem both much larger and more orange than usual. Though you’ll likely be able to spot it from Saturday, October 12 through the early morning hours of Tuesday, October 15, the best time to look up is Sunday night, October 13, when the moon reaches peak fullness.

According to The Old Farmer’s Almanac, the hunter’s moon may seem so huge because of a simple trick our eyes play on us called the “moon illusion.” Usually, when the moon is high and far from the horizon, it’s the main thing we see in the sky. Because the sky itself is so unfathomably vast, the moon looks pretty small. The hunter’s moon, however, appears lower in the sky, giving us a chance to view it next to things like trees and buildings. Since the moon is so much larger than those objects, our brains may process it with a better sense of scale.

The reason the hunter’s moon often glows orange is also related to its lower position. The moon is actually closer to us when it’s higher in the sky, so the light it reflects has to travel a shorter distance to reach our eyes, leaving the shorter wavelengths of blue light intact. When the moon is low, the air scatters those short blue wavelengths before they get to us, and only the longer, reddish wavelengths make it through.

Though we don’t know for sure why it’s called a hunter’s moon, The Old Farmer’s Almanac suggests that it may have once indicated the beginning of prime hunting season, when hunters could easily spot animals in fields that harvesters had just cleared after the previous month’s harvest moon.

And, after the hunter’s moon has come and gone, be sure to catch the full beaver moon in November.

[h/t Newsweek]

The Draconid and Southern Taurid Meteor Showers Peak Tonight and Tomorrow

Eshma/iStock via Getty Images
Eshma/iStock via Getty Images

This week, you have two phenomenal opportunities to see a meteor shower light up the night sky. Here's how to catch a glimpse of the Draconids and Southern Taurids.

When to See the Draconid Meteor Shower

First up is the Draconid shower, which happens annually when Earth crosses the orbit of Comet21P/Giacobini-Zinner, and the comet's debris transforms into meteors when it hits Earth’s atmosphere. Draconid refers to the appearance of the meteors near the head of the constellation Draco the dragon. According to EarthSky, the shower is also sometimes referred to as the Giacobinids—after Michel Giacobini, who discovered the comet in 1900.

The shower will peak Tuesday, October 8, into the following morning, and your best chance to spot a few meteors is right at nightfall. USA Today reports that since the meteors will be competing with the light from the moon, you should focus your gaze on an empty patch of sky.

When Comet21P/Giacobini-Zinner reaches its closest point to the sun, or perihelion, the number of meteors can sometimes reach the hundreds or even thousands. Since its most recent perihelion was just last year—and its next one won’t come until 2025—EarthSky predicts that this year’s orbital intersection will produce just about five meteors per hour.

When to See the Southern Taurid Meteor Shower

If you miss the Draconids’ display on Tuesday night, you can try again on Wednesday at nightfall with the Southern Taurids. Although the Taurids—referring to their proximity to the constellation Taurus—won’t likely amount to many more meteors per hour than the Draconids, the meteors themselves might be more noticeable. According to the American Meteor Society, the Taurids are “rich in fireballs,” which are such large, brilliant meteors that they can even cast shadows on the ground.

And, if the meteors manage to escape your line of sight altogether this week, don’t worry: The Orionid meteor shower is on its way later this month, followed by the Leonids in November and the Geminids in December.

[h/t USA Today]

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