With clear skies in the forecast, this weekend could be a good one for viewing the northern lights in Alaska, according to the Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
"It appears that a small flare on the sun resulted in elevated solar wind velocities," said professor Bill Bristow, Space Physics Research Group leader with the institute.
Though small, the solar event was aimed at earth when it took place on Thursday. The "shock front" of the solar wind is expected to arrive late Friday or early Saturday and produce increased auroral activity for 24 to 48 hours.
The institute says highly active auroral displays will be visible overhead for most of Alaska, from Barrow to the Kenai Peninsula and from the west coast of the state to Southeast. The lights may appear lower on the horizon in southern locations including King Salmon, Kodiak and Ketchikan. An online map from the institute shows that displays may be visible almost as far south as Bismarck, North Dakota and Oslo, Norway.
Though Alaska is increasingly awash in spring daylight, "It's still dark enough to see them after about 10 p.m., say, in Fairbanks," Bristow said. "And you're darker than us down there in Anchorage."
Sunset in Anchorage will be at 9:14 p.m. Friday and three minutes later on Saturday, with dusk lasting until about 10 p.m. Currently in Southcentral Alaska there are about 9 1/2 hours between sunset and sunrise.
There's no sure way to know exactly when or for how long the lights will be visible. However, Bristow said that a strong and sustained event mean that conditions for good viewing "stay elevated for a longer period of time."
Updated information can be found at gi.alaska.edu/auroraforecast/alaska
Reach Mike Dunham at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4332.
UAF Geophysical Institute aurora forecast site
By MIKE DUNHAM