A fierce magnetic storm is underway in the outer reaches of the atmosphere this evening. As a result, Aurora Borealis (also known as "the Northern Lights") will be visible much further South than usual for at least the next couple of nights. While those of you in the Central and Northern two thirds of the U.S. will have the greatest chance of spotting the Northern Lights (see the purple and blue shaded areas on the image below), it is possible that they could be spotted even further South tonight and/or Saturday night.
In general, the best hours to view the Northern Lights in the Northern Hemisphere are between 11pm and 1am Central Time. They may also be observed before or after that time range as well, but that is usually the peak intensity and viewing period. As the name implies, you'll want to look into the Northern part of the sky. If you are in the Southern fringes of the viewing area, they may only be visible very near the horizon. If you're further North (and lucky), you might get to see them extend well up above the horizon.
I'll never forget my first (and only, so far) view of the Northern Lights in the early 1990s outside of El Dorado, KS (right between 11:30pm and Midnight local time). Words can't describe the awesome spectacle that I witnessed that evening. I didn't really know what I was doing, but I accidentally captured some spectacular shots with my cheap, "point and shoot" 35mm camera. Two of those photos were on display at the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center in Hutchinson for many years afterward (I don't know if they still are today - but I doubt it). One of these days it's my intention to pull out those old negatives (as well as some of my other storm chasing photos) and have them digitized so that I can share them on the blog on an occasion like this.
It's hard to convey the true beauty of this sight on camera (still or video), but the YouTube video below shows some of the many forms that the Aurora can take on:
Good luck, happy viewing and be sure to drop me a line if you see something this weekend (a photo would be great, too!)
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