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Northern lights forecast: Expect Mother Nature's fireworks

David Clark ScottThe Christian Science Monitor
Northern Lights over North Pole, Alaska, November 1, 2012
Courtesy Lara Poirrier
Aurora chasing is always a game of chance: even nights predicted for good viewing oftentimes don't pan out. The sky must be clear and you must be far from city lights. Oh - and the universe itself must cooperate, too.
Brandon Lovett photo
Northern lights above O'Malley peak in Anchorage. May 1, 2013
Courtesy Todd Running
The Northern Lights dance above Sheep Mountain in the early morning hours of November 13, 2012.
Loren Holmes photo
Northern Lights over North Pole, Alaska, November 1, 2012
Courtesy Lara Poirrier
Northern lights blaze over Alaska all year long. However, come May, June and July, much of the state is bathed in 20-24 hours of sunlight, making the aurora difficult to watch.
Brandon Lovett photo
Northern lights above O'Malley peak in Anchorage. May 1, 2013
Courtesy Todd Running
The Northern Lights dance above Sheep Mountain in the early morning hours of November 13, 2012.
Loren Holmes photo
Northern Lights, October 12, 2012
Courtesy Todd List
Northern lights activity increases with solar storms. This year has seen several massive solar storms, and the aurora borealis viewing has in turn been pretty amazing over Alaska, particularly earlier in 2012.
Brandon Lovett photo
Northern Lights dance above North Pole on April 14, 2013
Courtesy Northern Source Images
The Northern Lights dance above Tahneta pass in the early morning hours of November 13, 2012.
Loren Holmes photo
Northern Lights, October 12, 2012
Courtesy Todd List
Aurora borealis shimmers over Delta Junction, Alaska, just after midnight on Thursday, Aug. 23. (More photos: Facebook.com/SebastianSaarloos)
Sebastian Saarloos photo
Northern Lights dance above North Pole on April 14, 2013
Courtesy Northern Source Images
The Northern Lights dance above the Eureka Roadhouse in the early morning hours of November 13, 2012.
Loren Holmes photo
Northern Lights, October 12, 2012
Courtesy Todd List
Location is a key factor when preparing to photograph northern lights. As aurora activity increases it normally starts from the east as Earth rotates into the dancing lights.
Brandon Lovett photo
On the night of March 16, 2013, the northern lights were out in force across Alaska. This photo was taken from Eureka Lodge between 10 p.m. and 1 a.m.
Loren Holmes photo
The milky way is colored by faint aurora at Tahneta pass in the early morning hours of November 13, 2012.
Loren Holmes photo
Northern lights as seen from Talkeetna on Oct. 12, 2012.
Dora Miller photo
Traditionally, good times for aurora viewing and photographing in Alaska come between 11 p.m. and 2 a.m. But during strong solar storms aurora can be seen at all hours once the sky darkens.
Brandon Lovett photo
On the night of March 16, 2013, the northern lights were out in force across Alaska. This photo was taken from Eureka Lodge between 10 p.m. and 1 a.m.
Loren Holmes photo
The Northern Lights dance above Tahneta pass in the early morning hours of November 13, 2012.
Loren Holmes photo
Northern lights as seen over Nikiski on Oct. 12, 2012.
Leslie Richards photo
When photographing northern lights, controlling the movement of your camera is paramount. Remote shutter release is one way to keep movement minimal.
Brandon Lovett photo
On the night of March 16, 2013, the northern lights were out in force across Alaska. This photo was taken from Eureka Lodge between 10 p.m. and 1 a.m.
Loren Holmes photo
The Northern Lights dance above Sheep Mountain in the early morning hours of November 13, 2012.
Loren Holmes photo
The northern lights were strong enough on Oct. 12, 2012 to be seen even in the city lights of Anchorage.
Jacob Todd photo
Aurora dances above a residence in Bear Valley, on the south side of Anchorage, on Oct. 12, 2012.
Courtesy Chuck Berray
A view of the northern lights from the International Space Station on Jan. 29, 2012.
NASA photo
The Northern Lights dance above Sheep Mountain in the early morning hours of November 13, 2012.
Loren Holmes photo
Northern Lights above Eagle River, with Denali in the background.
Courtesy Alaska's Nature
Aurora above Anchorage, Alaska, on Oct. 12, 2012.
Courtesy Chuck Berray
North Pole and Fairbanks got a nice light show early March 3,2013. For about 45 minutes the aurora ebbed and flowed in the sky. Lara Poirrier of Northern Source Images was able to catch this photo.
Lara Poirrier, Northern Source Images
The Northern Lights dance above Sheep Mountain in the early morning hours of November 13, 2012.
Loren Holmes photo
The Northern Lights dance above southcentral Alaska skies on September 30, 2012.
Loren Holmes photo
Aurora weaves under the Big Dipper constellation in Palmer, Alaska.10:30 p.m., Oct 12., 2012.
Courtesy Thom Swavely
Photographer Trevor Gridley says he "caught this image on the way to work a while back" in Interior Alaska.
Trevor Gridley
Northern lights dance above the Knik river early morning November 8, 2012.
Loren Holmes photo
Northern lights dance above the Knik river as the moon rises early morning November 8, 2012.
Loren Holmes photo
The Northern Lights dance above southcentral Alaska skies on September 30, 2012.
Loren Holmes photo
A view of the northern lights on Nov. 23, 2012 near Fox, Alaska.
Lucie Steiger photo
Beautiful crazy colors captured in Alaska's Interior during the winter of 2013.
Trevor Gridley
Northern Lights over North Pole, Alaska, November 1, 2012
Courtesy Lara Poirrier
Northern Lights above Alaska on September 30, 2012
Courtesy Melissa Wollman
A view of the northern lights on Nov. 23, 2012 near Fox, Alaska.
Lucie Steiger photo
Northern Lights dance above Palmer on Dec 16, 2012.
Courtesy Thom Swavely
Northern Lights over North Pole, Alaska, November 1, 2012
Courtesy Lara Poirrier
The northern lights, photographed in Fairbanks, Alaska. September 18, 2012
Courtesy Brandon Lovett
The northern lights on Nov. 23, seen just north of Fairbanks in the Steele Creek area.
Ed Gonzalez photo
Northern Lights dance above Palmer on Jan 15, 2013.
Courtesy Thom Swavely
Northern Lights over North Pole, Alaska, November 1, 2012
Courtesy Lara Poirrier
The northern lights, photographed in Fairbanks, Alaska. September 18, 2012
Courtesy Brandon Lovett
This image was taken at Chena Hot Springs Resort in Interior Alaska. (Image cropped from original)
Aaron Corbeil
Northern Lights dance above Palmer on Dec 16, 2012.
Courtesy Thom Swavely
Northern Lights over North Pole, Alaska, November 1, 2012
Courtesy Lara Poirrier
The northern lights, photographed in Fairbanks, Alaska. September 18, 2012
Courtesy Brandon Lovett
The Northern Lights dance above Tahneta pass in the early morning hours of November 13, 2012.
Loren Holmes photo
Northern Lights over North Pole, Alaska, November 1, 2012
Courtesy Lara Poirrier
The northern lights, photographed in Fairbanks, Alaska. September 18, 2012
Courtesy Brandon Lovett
This image was captured just outside of Fairbanks at the pipeline viewpoint.
Trevor Gridley
The Northern Lights dance above Sheep Mountain in the early morning hours of November 13, 2012.
Loren Holmes photo

You don't have to be in chilly Fairbanks, Alaska or Yellowknife, Canada, to see the Aurora Borealis Saturday night (but as Alaskans know, it does help). Seattle, New York, Pittsburgh, and Washington might see a display of the northern lights after sunset. At least that's what some forecasting models are saying.

Thanks to a big solar flare that left the sun Thursday, Accuweather.com is generating some buzz online by predicting a "dazzling" light show tonight:

"The flare is also expected to cause vibrant northern lights from the Arctic as far south as New York, the Dakotas, Washington and Michigan, with a smaller possibility of it going into Pennsylvania and Iowa, even Kansas. The lights are currently estimated for 8 p.m. EDT Saturday arrival, with a possible deviation of up to seven hours. If the radiation hits much after dark settles on the East Coast the lights may be missed and will instead only be visible for the West."

They've also provided a pretty cool map (see above) that may or may not prove accurate.

Solar flares are waves of charged plasma that come streaming toward our planet at about four million miles per hour. When they hit the Earth's upper atmosphere they release visible light and are channeled toward the Earth's poles by the planet's magnetic field. The norther aurora borealis is called the northern lights. The displays over the southern pole are called the southern lights or aurora australis.

This particular blast of plasma may also put on a light show over parts of Europe and Russia too. Accuweather says the British Isles, and as far south as the northern parts of Germany, Poland, Lithuania, Belarus, Latvia and Estonia may see the northern lights.

Accuweather's Hunter Outten has been updating this latest aurora borealis watch on the company's Facebook page. At 3:35 p.m., he wrote:

"Still have not seen any key signs yet of the CME close to hitting the planet. Looks like the time is shaping up right on schedule for anywhere from 5-9PM EDT."

CME refers to the Coronal Mass Ejection, the burst of plasma released from the Sun. Mr. Outten shares how he's tracking the arrival of the plasma burst via the compression of the magnet field with this NOAA chart..

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has its own forecasting model, including a chart, which is a lot harder to parse. You can check out the Ovation Auroral Forecast here.

The opportunity to see the northern lights at many of these latitudes is a rare treat, but the usual caveats for celestial events still apply. A successful sighting will be dependent on a variety of local factors, such as cloud cover, full moon, and urban light pollution.

And if you happen to be in Fairbanks or Yellowknife tonight, the University of Alaska Geophysical Institute says the prospects are also good for viewing the aurora borealis.