Strong solar flares mean rare northern lights possible in North Carolina

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RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – An unusually strong coronal mass ejection (CME) coming from the sun earlier this week will give a majority of the United States the chance to see northern lights Wednesday and Thursday night. This includes one of the rare occasions where the auroras could make it far enough south to North Carolina.

The most likely times for this to happen are from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. on Wednesday and Thursday nights. If they appear, auroras will be in the northern sky.

Coronal mass ejections, or solar flares, are bursts of energy and particles that get thrown toward Earth by the sun. They happen frequently, but don’t always make it across the solar systems. CMEs that do make it to Earth normally are deflected by the magnetic shield around the planet.

This time, however, the CME is unusually strong, so some of the energy and particles will make it around the Earth’s magnetic field to the north and south pole.

The particles and energy that make it to the poles will filter down through North America, possibly giving the northern night sky some auroral activity. This will be in the form of some greening of the sky, but not an extreme version of multi-colored ribbons that are seen in photos or movies.

The unfortunate thing about auroras is that they are very hard to forecast. So, while the changes in the sun’s energy making it all the way to North Carolina are a long shot, it’s also possible that it doesn’t happen.

This type of event is usually only visible in Alaska or Canada, so it’s worth looking. Good luck!

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