NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) (part of NOAA’s National Weather Service, NWS), has issued an alert for an increase in solar activity to moderate levels with a chance for an isolated major solar flare over the next few days. The consequent solar wind, consisting of charged atomic particles, is expected to intersect the upper atmosphere over polar regions February 17-19, leading to the possibility of brilliant auroras.
Whether or not we will be able to see an aurora locally in the northern sky depends upon several factors. Foremost is the degree of disturbance to the earth’s magnetic field and latitude. The brilliance of Aurora’s decreases the further south the location. At our latitude, it would probably take the magnetic disturbance arising from a major solar flare, now forecast as at least a possibility.
While the appearance of auroras is a plus for night sky watchers as solar activity increases to the expected solar max (increasing sunspots, solar flares, etc), much more consequential is the possibility of solar storm induced geomagnetic disturbances causing radio blackouts, damage to satellites, and, especially, possibly disastrous damage to electrical grids.