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Will Arizona see northern lights in June? Here’s what to know about latest aurora forecast

In World
June 03, 2024

After Arizona was treated to a northern lights show in May, many stargazers and those who missed the spectacle are wondering when the aurora will be visible again.

Forecasters have their eye on a cluster of sunspots responsible for the spectacular nationwide May 10 aurora display, which rotated back in view of the Earth. That potentially sets up conditions for another spectacle, the federal Space Weather Prediction Center in Boulder, Colorado, said.

However, top experts said it’s still too early to confirm if those sunspots will fire up the solar storms that could trigger auroras here on Earth.

Here’s what to know about the next chance to see the northern lights and how to view them in Arizona.

When will the northern lights be visible in the United States?

Shawn Dahl, a senior forecaster for the Space Weather Prediction Center, said although the sunspot group known as Region 3697 has now rotated back to face Earth, it’s too early to say whether it will send out another coronal mass ejection that could trigger solar storms and auroras.

“We’re forecasting stuff from 93 million miles away, so it’s very difficult. And our science is limited,” Dahl said. “We can do a great job of predicting the probability that the flare will happen, and if so, what level if might get to, and the same with radiation storms, but we have no way of knowing that a flare is imminent. That science doesn’t exist. And we also don’t have the science to know when a CME is going to explode off the sun. We have to wait for them to happen.”

Will northern lights be visible in Arizona?

Maybe. The sunspot group responsible for the vivid mid-May auroras has rotated back to face Earth, but forecasters are still unsure if it will result in auroras. It all will depend on whether or not the sun belches out a solar flare or coronal mass ejection toward the Earth, triggering the geomagnetic storms and thus the aurora.

The strength of the storms would also impact viewing in Arizona. The aurora is stronger and more visible farther north, so the solar flares or coronal mass ejections must be stronger to be seen farther south.

Where is the best stargazing in Arizona? These 5 places are tops in 2024

Why it’s so hard to predict space weather

When exactly will the northern lights appear again? Conditions are primed for more aurora shows over the next few years, but experts say even the best predictions can only accurately be made a few days or even hours in advance.

Unlike with terrestrial weather, scientists who forecast space weather – which includes the aurora – must rely on observations of the sun, 93 million miles away, to make their predictions.

“There are so many uncertainties, it makes it difficult to predict,” Bill Murtagh, the program coordinator at the Space Weather Prediction Center, told USA TODAY last year.

Northern lights in Arizona

It’s not unheard of to see the northern lights in Arizona. After sightings in 2023, Arizonans were treated to an especially vivid celestial light show in mid-May.

The pink and purple beams, created by a series of coronal mass ejections from the sun that produced geomagnetic storms triggering auroras, were visible across the state by those who found a dark spot and looked at the right time.

Arizonans looking to see the storms should consider these tips:

  • Go to a dark place for optimal viewing. It’s essential to be in an area with minimal light pollution to see the aurora. Multiple Arizona cities were voted best for stargazing in the U.S. and would be optimal places to view the aurora.

  • Look to the north. It may seem obvious, but you need to look north to see the lights.

  • Try looking for auroras between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. The auroras are usually strongest during this time, though they can be visible in the evening and early morning hours.

It's not unheard of to see the northern lights in Arizona. After sightings in 2023, Arizonans were treated to an especially vivid celestial light show in mid-May.

It’s not unheard of to see the northern lights in Arizona. After sightings in 2023, Arizonans were treated to an especially vivid celestial light show in mid-May.

USA TODAY reporters Doyle Rice, Jeanine Santucci and Trevor Hughes contributed to this article.

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Northern lights June 2024: Will aurora be visible in Arizona?

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