Look up! Bright auroras possible across Canada Friday night

The active sunspot region that sparked brilliant auroras around the world in early May is picking up right where it left off, and that could result in more auroras across Canada Friday night.

On May 10, 2024, an immense solar storm slammed into Earth's geomagnetic field, producing the strongest geomagnetic storm and the brightest and most expansive displays of the aurora borealis seen in over two decades.

After a roughly two-week hiatus on the other side of the Sun, the sunspot region responsible for this intense space weather, Active Region 3664 (AR3664), has rotated back onto the Earth-facing side of our star. Now renamed AR3697, the sunspot group isn't as big as when we saw it last, but it still packs a punch.

Starting around 10:37 a.m. EDT on Wednesday, AR3697 blasted out an exceptionally long duration X1.4-class solar flare, which lasted for more than an hour.

look up! bright auroras possible across canada friday night
The X1.4-class solar flare from May 29 (left), and a closeup of AR3697 from the morning of May 30 (right). Sunspots are regions of tangled magnetic fields at the Sun's surface, which appear dark as they radiate more heat into space than the areas around them. (NASA SDO/Scott Sutherland)

Solar flares are explosions of energy, high intensity ultraviolet light, and x-rays, that result from tangled up magnetic fields at the Sun's surface suddenly unravelling or reconnecting amongst themselves. X-class solar flares are the strongest type of flare the Sun produces.

On its first pass across the Earth-facing side of the Sun, AR3664 emitted nearly a dozen X-class flares. One of these, which blasted out just as the active region was swinging out of view on May 14, reached X8.7-class. This was the strongest flare emitted so far by the Sun in solar cycle 25, so far, and the strongest seen since September 2017.

During this latest X-class flare from AR3697, the NASA/ESA Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) also spied an immense coronal mass ejection, aka 'solar storm', erupting from that same region of the Sun.

look up! bright auroras possible across canada friday night
Five frames captured by SOHO are overlapped here, starting at 14:36 UTC, just after the flare, showing it expanding out into space. Solar storms are immense clouds of charged solar particles that sweep out through the solar system. When one passes by Earth, these charged particles interact with the planet's magnetic field, causing a disturbance known as a geomagnetic storm. These can result in bright aurora displays on Earth. (NASA/ESA)

DON'T MISS: Once-in-a-lifetime northern lights dance across North American skies

According to NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center, this CME is expected to reach Earth, scoring a glancing blow on the planet's geomagnetic field starting Friday afternoon, and continuing through Friday evening (Eastern Time).

As a result, they have issued a G2 (moderate) geomagnetic storm watch for Friday night into Saturday morning.

look up! bright auroras possible across canada friday night

The brightness and extent of these aurora is not expected to reach the same levels as what occurred on the night of May 10. However, it is possible for much of Canada to see them throughout the night.

Cloudy or clear skies?

Having a clear sky is very important for aurora watching, as a thick layer of cloud will completely obscure our view of this phenomenon.

look up! bright auroras possible across canada friday night

For the best chance to see the auroras, get far away from urban light pollution, to view from under the darkest sky possible.

Thumbnail courtesy Tree and Dar Tanner, of TeamTanner Aurora and Weather Chasers, who photograph both space weather and Earth weather from central Alberta. They captured this image during the March 23, 2023 solar storm.

Watch below: This Alberta duo is celebrated for capturing magic of northern lights

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