Could there be more ‘northern lights’ before the end of May?

SYRACUSE, NY (WSYR-TV) – People across the country and around the world are still buzzing about the views of the aurora borealis, or northern lights, earlier in the month of May. Could another spectacular show be in the offing before the end of the month?

It is a real possibility, and we’ll explain why in a moment, but first, a little background.

What are ‘northern lights’ and why do they occur?

Bursts of energy are emitted from the sun in what is called a ‘coronal mass ejection,’ or CME. This solar energy travels through space and then reacts with the Earth’s outer atmosphere, the magnetosphere. Electrons and protons in this part of the atmosphere become ‘excited,’ resulting in the colors that make up the northern lights in the sky.

It was several rounds of these CMEs that brought the colorful displays earlier this month.

More ‘northern lights’ in the months to come

CMEs usually come from regions on the sun with sunspots, and we are coming to the peak of a sunspot cycle that runs over an 11-year period.

Being at this point in the cycle tells us more northern lights are possible, and even again, well south into the United States not only later in the month of May but for many months to come heading into 2025.

Sunspot Region 3664 is key!

There is one cluster of sunspots currently on the sun’s surface called Region 3664 that we are watching closely. This is a cluster of sunspots larger than the diameters of 16 Earths! It was responsible for producing the CMEs that brought us the northern lights show the second weekend of May.

Right now, this region is rotating away from the Earth as the sun spins. While any sunspot region can produce a CME that can cause northern lights, the Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) says we should be in a relative “lull” between now and May 23.

However, by May 28, sunspot Region 3664 comes back into view to us on Earth, which brings with it, as SWPC puts it, “a significant increase in threat of high (solar) activity.”

While we don’t know exactly how Region 3664 will behave when it comes into view again, we do know it is currently the most active area on the sun for producing CMEs.

Are we guaranteed more ‘northern lights’ later this month?

While the odds of northern lights may be greater by the end of the month, things still have to come into perfect alignment to get a colorful show of lights.

Any CME coming off the sun must be aimed right at the Earth’s magnetosphere.  A near-miss won’t cut it.

Also, it has to arrive at the outer limits of the Earth’s atmosphere at the right time.  Too early and those in Asia and Europe get the show. If they arrive later and prime viewing is out over the Pacific Ocean.

Of course, as we found out earlier in May, we also need the weather to cooperate and gives us clear skies for viewing any northern lights.

We’ll keep you posted.

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