The biggest solar flare in four years might bring a sweet light show to northern latitudes tonight.
For all you celestial dorks out there (and I include myself in these ranks), it might be worth clearing your schedule tonight. The most powerful solar flare in four years erupted late Monday, and it sent "a firehose of material" towards Earth.
Which means there's a much better than usual chance of aurora borealis, or the Northern Lights, tonight and tomorrow night. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecasters are giving a 45 percent chance of geomagnetic activity in the northern continental United States and a 30 percent chance at latitudes as far south as Washington, D.C.
NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory explains:
Active region 1158 let loose with an X2.2 flare at 0153 UT or 8:50 pm ET on February 15, 2011, the largest flare since Dec. 2006 and the biggest flare so far in Solar Cycle 24. Active Region 1158 is in the southern hemisphere, which has been lagging the north in activity but now leads in big flares!
The still (above) shows a close-up of the flaring region taken by the Solar Dynamics Observatory at 0153 UT in the extreme ultraviolet wavelength of 193 Angstroms. Much of the vertical line in the image and the staggered lines making an “X” are caused by the bright flash overwhelming our imager. A coronal mass ejection was also associated with the flare. The movie shows activity over about two days (Feb. 13-15, 2011). Since the active region was facing Earth, there is a good chance that Earth will receive some effects from these events, with some possibility of mid-latitude aurora Feb. 16 - 18.\n
Might I interest you in a short video of the explosion?
If the potential light show is all you really care about, this NOAA page has a map of where the aurora is occurring. The redder the better chance of seeing the Northern Lights.