Saturday evening you may get another chance to see the Northern Lights

SALT LAKE CITY — A second chance to view the magnificent auroras caused by a series of solar flares and coronal mass ejections from the sun arrives Saturday evening in case you missed the previous night’s spectacle.

Auroras could be seen as far away as Alabama later Saturday, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Space Weather Prediction Center. The best view is across the Ohio River Valley, through the Midwest and Pacific Northwest.

Increased solar activity created beautiful shows of dancing green, purple and red lights in the night sky in the Northern Hemisphere on Friday.

“I’m going to go out and say, I don’t think it’s going to be that strong,” Bill Murtagh, program coordinator for the Space Weather Prediction Center, told CNN on Saturday.

“It was extraordinary. Now more of these outbursts are coming… It’s so rare for this one to be as strong as last night. However, we do expect more severe storms.”

In general, it is good to start searching just after sunset. Weather is of course crucial, as cloud cover can limit the visibility of the aurora.

“Don’t worry about it because this doesn’t look like an eclipse.” This is a multi-day event,” said CNN meteorologist Chad Myers.

“It will be visible across most of North America, maybe not all the way to the Gulf Coast, but it will be close.”

Cloudy conditions will persist from the Rockies to Texas and the northern Gulf Coast, as well as much of the Northeast.

The Space Weather Prediction Center, a division of the National Weather Service, observed conditions of an extreme geomagnetic storm at 6:54 PM ET Friday evening, reaching a severity level of Level 5 out of 5. The last time a solar storm of this magnitude reached Earth was in October 2003, causing power outages in Sweden and damaged power transformers in South Africa, the center said.

Signs of a severe geomagnetic storm, or level 4, were first observed by scientists at the center at 12:37 p.m. ET, when a major disturbance was detected in Earth’s magnetic field. The center previously issued a geomagnetic storm watch on Thursday evening, the first time since January 2005.

But the forecast was upgraded after scientists observed G5, or extreme geomagnetic storm, conditions on Friday evening.

As the sun approaches the peak of activity in its eleven-year cycle, known as solar maximum, later this year, researchers have observed increasingly intense solar flares erupting from the fiery orb.

Increased solar activity causes auroras that dance around Earth’s poles, known as the Northern Lights, or aurora borealis, and Southern Lights, or aurora australis. When the activated particles from coronal mass ejections reach Earth’s magnetic field, they interact with gases in the atmosphere to create different colored light in the sky.

“Auroras were visible over much of the United States last night. Weather permitting, they may be visible again tonight,” the Space Weather Prediction Center said Saturday.

“The extreme geomagnetic storm continues and will last at least until Sunday.”

The storm could affect the electricity grid and satellite and high-frequency radio communications. The Biden administration said it is monitoring the possibility of consequences.

Bill Nye the Science Guy, an educator and engineer, said the massive solar storm could cause problems in a world so dependent on electricity.

Nye noted that a solar storm in 1859 known as the Carrington Event lasted a week and severely affected telegraph communications, which were state-of-the-art at the time.

“The other thing, all of it, that is a real danger to our technological society, different from 1859, is the extent to which we rely on electricity and our electronics and so on,” Nye said. “None of us in the developed world could live without electricity for very long.”

Systems are in place to minimize the impact, but “anything can go wrong,” Nye said, noting that not all transformers are equipped to withstand a massive solar event.

“To me it’s like the total solar eclipse of April 8. It really brings the fact that we live on a planet orbiting a star in a galaxy right to our doorstep. It brings it down to earth,” Dr. Hakeem Oluseyi, an astrophysicist, told CNN.

“If you ask me, I’d say a total solar eclipse is the clear number one. But next to a bright comet, auroras are pretty amazing to see. And if you’re near the northern extremes or the southern extremes, we can see not only the colors in the sky, but the actual billowing curtains of vagueness. That’s pretty awesome. So the fact that this is going to expand to more people around the world, that’s pretty cool.”

Nye added: “Let’s celebrate.”