Northern lights could illuminate Wisconsin's night sky this week
The Northern Lights, or the Aurora Borealis. The Vikings thought it was a road to the Gods, but we now know exactly what those beautiful lights actually are. Buzz60
Got the northern lights on your bucket list?
Not saying it will happen, but chances for the colorful, pulsating aurora borealis filling the night sky in Wisconsin are pretty good. A geomagnetic storm on the sun this week has greatly increased the probability of the northern lights appearing in night skies.
The Space Weather Prediction Center issued a "moderate" geomagnetic storm watch for Thursday, and Wisconsin is smack dab in the middle of the area for the most likely visibility.
That doesn't mean it will happen or that the northern lights are going to blink on like Christmas displays throughout Wisconsin. But Thursday night might be a great time to head outdoors and look up if it's not raining. Which it might be.
When the sun is more active, which it is now, magnetic fields can snap and shoot charged particles of electricity that will slam into Earth a day or two later. Those charged particles heat the gas in Earth's atmosphere and create the northern lights, said Bob Bonadurer, director of the Milwaukee Public Museum's Daniel M. Soref National Geographic Dome Theater & Planetarium.
"Now whether we see it here in Wisconsin depends on the strength of the particles released, the strength of the storm," Bonadurer said Wednesday.
It normally has to be a stronger solar storm for folks in Wisconsin to see the northern lights. Our planet is basically one big magnet that produces a magnetic field that makes human life possible, explained Bonadurer.
"That field deflects most of the particles of the sun and they spiral into the poles. The further north or south you are to the poles, the better chance of seeing them," Bonadurer said.
That means people in northern Wisconsin have a better chance of seeing them than in the south. Milwaukee is actually closer to the equator than to the magnetic North Pole.
Unfortunately, the weather forecast, particularly in southern Wisconsin, calls for rain and cloudy skies Thursday night and Friday night. However, central and northern Wisconsin should be relatively clear.
"As you go north toward Green Bay and Door County it won't be in too bad of shape" for clear skies, said Andy Boxell, a National Weather Service meteorologist based in Sullivan. "As you head north to Wausau and Rhinelander, it should be clear but Eau Claire and over to the Twin Cities, there will likely be cloud cover."
Bonadurer suggests checking social media since people lucky enough to ogle the northern lights usually don't keep it to themselves. He follows Great Lakes Aurora Hunters on Facebook; the group will send out alerts when the aurora borealis shows up in the region.
By their nature, northern lights are seen in the northern sky - so look north - and it's best to get away from light pollution. They can last minutes or hours and appear bright as lime Jell-O with a beating heart or as faint as a nightlight that needs a new battery.
Bonadurer has seen the northern lights several times and has also experienced "aurora jealousy" - missing them by a few minutes. A few years ago Bonadurer's neighbor in Wauwatosa saw some great northern lights but when Bonadurer looked outside 20 minutes later, they had already disappeared.
Contact Meg Jones at (414) 224-2064 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @MegJonesJS