Northern lights

Image captured in Bear Lake, Alaska.

A strong geomagnetic storm predicted to reach Earth today may give the D.C. area a rare chance to see the aurora borealis, or Northern Lights.

The University of Alaska Fairbanks' aurora forecast predicts auroral displays will be visible low on the horizon tonight as far south as Raleigh, N.C.

University of Alaska aurora map

University of Alaska Fairbanks aurora map

Aurora forecasts are based on a geomagnetic measure called the Kp index. For Northern Lights to be visible in the D.C. area, the Kp index needs to be between 7 and 9.  You can follow the latest Kp index at Aurora Alerts, and see a map of predicated aurora activity at the NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center.

Aurora Alerts also offers a real-time prediction of seeing the Northern Lights based on your GPS location.

The Space Weather Prediction Center is monitoring the sun and solar winds following what scientists called a significant solar flare and coronal mass ejection from the sun that occurred around 11:35 a.m. Thursday. The event is predicted to be a strong geomagnetic storm arriving here on Earth today.

Geomagnetic storms on earth can affect electrical grids, GPS navigation systems and radio and satellite telecommunications. The Space Weather Prediction Center notified power grid operators, satellite operators, airlines and other customers about potential impacts of a geomagnetic storm.

Though disruptive impacts are unlikely, the G3 storm has the potential to drive the aurora further away from its normal polar position, giving us a chance to see it.

Exactly when is hard to say, but experts say to watch the Space Weather Prediction Center's 30-minute forecasts from 7 p.m. to midnight. Dark skies are best to view the phenomena and keep in mind cloud cover could get in the way.

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