Northern Lights expected over Capital Region

July 17, 2017 12:00 AM

SCHENECTADY – The Capital Region could get a special treat Sunday night and Monday morning in the night sky, one that may not come around again for another few years.

We normally hear about the Northern Lights in Canada or Alaska, but because of a relatively powerful solar flare a few days ago, we’re getting a rare chance to see them Sunday night and Monday morning.

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The Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis, are expected to light up the night sky in the Capital Region. But local astronomers say people here shouldn’t expect those images that stun and dazzle from around the world. “You see these pictures of Northern Lights and they're very bright but in reality those are long exposure photographs and they're not going to be nearly as bright as we see in photographs,” said Valerie Rapson, Outreach Astronomer for the Dudley Observatory at MiSci.

The Northern Lights are only made possible by what isn’t seen at night: the Sun. A solar flare a few days ago sent plasma spewing out. The solar flare on the Sun was pointed toward Earth, and those particles have been rocketing toward us for the past few days. When those particles hit the atmosphere, that’s what causes the Northern Lights.

“If people want to look at it, they want to try and head a little bit north,” said Rapson. “Preferably north of Albany or the cities around here. And if it stays not cloudy it will be an excellent view of the Northern Lights.”

And don’t expect the lights to be directly overhead, either. You may need to look low on the horizon to see them. “You'll see a whitish glow it'll almost look like clouds, and if it's dark enough and they're strong enough you'll start to see some of that green and red color,” said Rapson.

Despite the light show, astronomers say don’t expect any power outages or messed up phone signals. “There’s always a danger when stuff from the sun comes hurling towards us but this one isn't strong enough,” said Rapson. “We don't expect it to damage any satellites or cause any power outages or anything like that. It's just going to be a nice view of the Northern Lights.”

Rapson says to be sure to try and get out to see the lights Sunday night and Monday morning, because this might be the last time in a while that you get the chance. “We’re heading towards what's called solar minimum, so the sun is expected to be less active and it could be years before we have a chance to see this in upstate New York again,” said Rapson.

The best time to see the lights should be between 11 p.m. Sunday night and 5 a.m. Monday morning.


Ben Amey

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