Solar flare creates chance to see 'Northern Lights' from Md. tonight

  • The aurora borealis, or Northern Lights, shines above Bear Lake in Alaska in 2005.
The aurora borealis, or Northern Lights, shines above Bear… (United States Air Force…)
April 13, 2013|By Scott Dance, The Baltimore Sun

A solar flare that was the largest of the year could create a rare chance to see the aurora borealis, or "Northern Lights", from Maryland on Saturday night.

The flare occurred Thursday at 3:16 a.m. and was associated with what is known as a coronal mass ejection, in which charged particles released by the sun hurtle through space and sometimes pass by the Earth.

The particles can create dramatic episodes of the Northen Lights, though they can also affect satellite communications and GPS.

According to, viewing conditions for the Northern Lights will be best in the mid-Atlantic, with clouds blocking the view for much of the northern U.S. and Canada. Clear skies that made Saturday's weather so pleasant could make for a beautiful night, as well. 

"Solar flares create auroras when radiation from the sun reaches Earth and interacts with charged protons in our atmosphere," AccuWeather explains. "The effects are greater at the magnetic poles and weaken as they move south from the Arctic or north of the Antarctic."

NASA explains that the phenomena can cause geomagnetic storms on Earth, when the particles interact with Earth's magnetosphere. Read more about the solar flare here.

Still, there is a chance the aurora will not be visible far south enough for Marylanders to see it. 

Look to the northern skies tonight, but when the aurora might appear is hard to predict. It is estimated from around 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. AccuWeather is updating its astronomy page on Facebookwith the latest information.

As with any sky-watching, the best chance for a sighting is away from bright city lights.

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