Well, that was a letdown.
Lots of folks who shivered outside either Saturday or Sunday night for a peek at the northern lights, aka the aurora borealis, didn’t see the spectacle:
We “drove an hour away to try and see the #AuroraBorealis with a friend but all we saw were drunk drivers and creeps in big trucks. 🙃 It was still fun tho,” tweeted one Twitter user, “Yessie,” from Minnesota.
Another Twitter user, L. Stephens, said “we found a dark spot to watch for them near Cannon Mountain N.H…. without any luck.”
Predictions late last week had said the aurora might be visible as far south as Iowa and Colorado, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Space Weather Prediction Center in Boulder.
But other than a distant glimpse along the far northern border, this aurora “was a bust,” said Rob Steenburgh, the acting lead of the center’s space weather forecast office.
Here Comes the Sun: Roughly 2,700 years ago, an unusually powerful solar storm swept past the Earth
What happened? Turns out the Earth only got clipped by the blast of energy from the sun that triggers geomagnetic storms, which in turn bring the aurora.
To get a superb aurora, a more direct hit is needed, Steenburgh said. “We only got clipped by the trailing edge of the blast of particles from the sun, so it didn’t amount to much of anything.”
The Upper Peninsula of Michigan – one of the northernmost points in the U.S. other than Alaska – did catch a glimpse, as seen in these photos:
A nearly full moon and widespread cloudy skies didn’t help either.
Usually the aurora only makes it as far south as the U.S.-Canada border, but occasionally it can be seen further south: A 2011 aurora was spotted as far south as Alabama.
The sun has 11-year cycles of activity, according to Steenburgh, and now we’re in the midst of the quietest part of that cycle, known as the solar minimum. During this minimum, solar radiation levels and solar flares are typically few and far between, so seeing an aurora now is even more rare.
In five or six years, during the solar maximum, however, the chances for aurora sightings should be higher, he said.
The northern lights are the most benign result of solar activity. Strong solar storms can also disrupt some radio communications, harm satellites and even knock out power systems.