The Northern Lights could dance across your skies tonight thanks to a ‘Cannibal CME’

A restless sun has sent multiple bursts of highly charged plasma in Earth’s direction this week, and the result could be the Aurora Borealis stretching further equatorward than normal.

That means much of Canada, Alaska and some of the northern lower 48 United States could see them dancing the Northern Lights tonight, weather permitting.

Although it’s only Tuesday, several coronal mass ejections (CMEs) have been observed from the sun’s outer layers this week. CMEs are solar coronal eruptions that eject electromagnetically charged material into the inner solar system. When a CME collides with Earth’s magnetosphere, it gives a big boost to aurora activity.

CMEs often accompany solar flares from unstable sunspots on the sun’s surface. The sun has been shining like crazy for the past few days, including the explosion of an X-class flare on Sunday. X flares are the most powerful class of flares. They can disrupt radio and satellite communications, and in extreme cases, even electrical equipment and the electrical grid on the ground.

While flares consist of charged particles traveling at the speed of light, reaching Earth in minutes, CMEs travel much more slowly and vary in speed, usually taking a few days to get here.

Several CMEs from previous days are expected to finally reach Earth today, including a “cannibal CME,” which is when a slower-moving CME is overtaken by a faster one during transit.

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The two CMEs then combine into a more complex cloud of charged material that can sometimes “cause prolonged magnetic storms when they envelop Earth,” according to NASA.

There’s a decent chance this geomagnetic storm will reach G2 (moderate intensity) today, and NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center even says there’s a 15 percent chance of a strong storm. Basically, the stronger the storm the more aurora activity we have and the show is visible further south (or further north if you’re in the southern hemisphere).

NOAA also says there’s a chance for more X-flares and CMEs this week, so tonight might not even be the best chance to catch a glimpse of some dancing lights in the sky. Stay tuned.

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