National Geographic Daily News
The sun emitted a significant solar flare peaking at 1:32 p.m. EST on Jan.7, 2014. This is the first significant flare of 2014, and follows on the heels of mid-level flare earlier in the day. Each flare was centered over a different area of a large sunspot group currently situated at the center of the sun, about half way through its 14-day journey across the front of the disk along with the rotation of the sun.

The sun emitted a significant solar flare on January 7, 2014, which may result in northern lights on January 9 and 10.

PHOTGRAPH BY NASA/SDO

Andrew Fazekas

for National Geographic

Published January 9, 2014

The celebrated northern lights illuminate skies with unearthly glows that have long thrilled sky-watchers. A solar flare promises more displays of the aurora borealis in coming days.

Thanks to advance warnings from space weather satellites, people living in northern latitudes can know when to look for these night lights. (See also: "Watch: Sun Unleashes First Big Flare of 2014, May Create Colorful Aurora Light Show.")

On January 7, astronomers saw the sun unleash a strong solar flare that will strike a direct blow to Earth's magnetic field. Zipping along at up to 1.6 million miles per hour (2.5 million kilometers per hour), the blast should arrive sometime on January 9 or 10.

Solar Eruptions

Called a coronal mass ejection (CME), these massive outbursts of charged solar particles are funneled by Earth's magnetic field to the poles. Space weather forecasters currently estimate that there's a 90 percent chance of geomagnetic storms resulting from the CME's excitation of the upper atmosphere there.

And scientists say that the sunspot group responsible for the January blast remains very active and is still facing Earth, so there is a 50 percent chance for another powerful solar blast that may hit us to occur in the next day or so.

On rare occasions, such geomagnetic storms can damage electrical grids and temporarily knock out radio and satellite telecommunications. Any communications loss could also cause the rerouting of long-duration plane flights over the Arctic. Staff at the U.S.-based Space Weather Prediction Center say that they are closely monitoring the situation and updating forecasts as needed.

Here is our quick guide to catching the northern lights show:

Who will get to see the sky show?

Depending on the orientation of the solar outburst's magnetic field at the time of impact, we may have a better-than-average chance of seeing a light show in the skies above, especially if you live in New England, the Upper Midwest, or the Pacific Northwest.

According to current reports on Spaceweather.com, scientists are forecasting at least an 85 percent chance of auroras occurring in higher latitude skies and around a 50 percent chance for the mid-latitudes in the 48-hour period of January 9 through 10.

So if you have clear skies and you live north of 40 degrees latitude—that's anywhere north of the line stretching from Philadelphia to Denver, roughly speaking—it's worth a peek outside the next few nights.

Sky-watchers around the Arctic Circle and southern tip of South America will most likely see something, and those in more mid-latitude locations—like Toronto, New York, Seattle, and London—may have a fair chance as well.

Since the strength of the aurora depends on the orientation of the CME's magnetic field when it arrives, which is hard to predict, northern lights predictions always come hedged with a little caution.

While the best locations to catch auroras are dark locations away from city lights, intense displays can on rare occasions become bright enough to be easily seen from suburban backyards and even from a window of a darkened bedroom. Just remember, as for any stargazing, to turn off all your lights and give your eyes at least 20 minutes to adapt to the darkness.

When is the best time to look up?

The best time to look north is on January 9 and 10, starting at mid-evening and continuing late into the night. Generally, auroras start to kick in around local midnight, but since this is an intense event, the first hints of auroras may begin soon after local nightfall.

Watch for hints of a greenish glow to creep up the sky from the horizon—that's how many aurora events begin. If it ends up being an intense display, then a larger portion of the sky will unveil orange, pink, and purple curtains waving overhead.

How do I take a photo of the auroras?

You may want to try your hand at snapping your own souvenirs of these ghostly glows. It's not rocket science, but you have to have the right kind of equipment, an eye for framing your shots, and some patience. Some of the most beautiful photos of auroras are set where foreground objects such as houses, trees, and mountains are in view.

You should have a digital DSLR camera with a wide-angle lens, 55mm or less, to capture as much of the sky and landscape as possible. Mounting your camera on a sturdy tripod is a must so that you have a stable platform that doesn't shake if a sudden gust of wind blows as you take long-exposure photos.

Your camera should have a manual (M) setting where you can set the exposure rates at up to 20 to 30 seconds. Boost the sensitivity of your camera sensor to 400 ISO or higher. Both long exposures and higher ISOs will allow you to pick up hidden details and colors of auroras that you can't see with the naked eye. A self-timer release is indispensable as well, allowing you to remotely trigger shots without imparting any shaking to the camera.

Remember to be patient because auroras can take anywhere from minutes to hours to unfold—and you never know when you may see that awesome colorful curtain of light appear.

Finally, don't be afraid to experiment with camera settings—and expect to take scores of snapshots before you catch that one keeper.

While there are no guarantees that there will be auroras, the only way to know for sure is to go outside and look for yourself.

Captured a great photo of the northern lights? We invite you to send it in to our Your Shot community.

Follow Andrew Fazekas, the Night Sky Guy, on Twitter and Facebook.

18 comments
Ginger Mullins
Ginger Mullins

just beautiful, I love the way God has made things works so it gives off such an awesome show, amazing...

Bob Wade
Bob Wade

If you examine this photo carefully of flames or rays, you will see many things, even a number of faces. Is this the resting place of some of the corrupt politicians from the past that has sold us down the river, lol

bob Hendrickson
bob Hendrickson

check this out april rogers & Christian & Corynne Lackovic . you will be able to see this at your house tronight just read where and when it says in the text of the story.

Leila LaRosa
Leila LaRosa

Took a walk last night up to the top of the hill (in central Vermont) to look for northern lights. It was cold, clear and bright from moonlight on snow, but didn't see any Aurora Borealis.Oh well, it was a nice, peaceful walk anyway. Going to try again tonight...

Lola Rosique
Lola Rosique


Yo vivo en España,  es una lástima que no pueda ver esta maravilla.  Interesantisimo artículo ¡Gracias!

henry boulton
henry boulton

according to the above info-mation by Andrew Fazekas ; if anyone attempts the suggestions there should be a lot of FROZEN people looking north to be found in the spring when the weather warms up. trouble will be apparent when their cameras reveal no results because they live too far south.

henry boulton
henry boulton

im in washington state. about 800 miles too far south to get a view. whaaa. but the pics of it are beautiful

乐 黎
乐 黎

I‘m so excited for the coming Northern lights,it must cool.

sean gormley
sean gormley

Just spent two hours freezing my butt off on a high point in Southern RI, got some awesome shots but no Aurora Borealis =(. With my luck it will show up now that  I am home 

Stephanie McCone
Stephanie McCone

Crossing my fingers here in Massachusetts! I'm really hoping to catch a glimpse of this amazing phenomenon!!!!

Matt Morse
Matt Morse

We might be able to see some northern lights in Nebraska in tonight.

William Hagen
William Hagen

A solar flare and a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) are not the same thing, although they are related. The solar flare is energy released by a magnetic field from a sunspot, released typically as x-rays, as seen in the x-ray image of the sun. A CME is a big bubble of the corona being blown off the sun and can also be caused by the release of magnetic energy. The flare is the x-rays, the CME is the stuff that causes the aurora. The x-rays take 8 minutes to get to earth, the CME and embeded magnetic field take several days to get to earth.

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