Coloradans may see the Northern Lights more often in the coming months

Brigit Cheshire/Courtesy photo
Summit County's night sky is illuminated by starry lights.
Brigit Cheshire/Courtesy photo

The sighting of the Northern Lights in northern Colorado two weeks ago may be a mere glimpse of what’s in store in the coming months, judging by “space weather” predictions generated in Boulder that anticipate increasing solar storm activity through 2024.

The magnetic field of the sun reverses polarity every 11 years, meaning its magnetic north and south poles flip. Sun spots, solar flares, and the Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs) that cause the Northern Lights reach peak levels midway through the cycle, which is predicted to occur in late 2024 or early 2025.

That means the likelihood of more opportunities to see the Northern Lights, also known as the aurora borealis, is strong. They occur when the charged particles ejected by the sun are deflected to earth’s north and south magnetic poles, creating colorful lights when they interact with earth’s atmosphere. The Southern Lights, seen in the southern hemisphere, are called the aurora australis.

The aurora borealis is more commonly seen in far northern latitudes, but when there are strong CMEs, it is sometimes observable in northern Colorado, as was the case two weeks ago.

“What we’re observing now is quite a bit higher than predicted, especially in the last couple of months,” said Bill Murtagh, program coordinator for the Space Weather Prediction Center of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in Boulder. “It (solar activity) is higher and rising faster than expected. With the increase in sun spots, we are going to see more eruptions. We saw a lot of that in the past couple of months, and it will continue.

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