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Is more solar activity headed Earth's way after Thursday's solar flare?

Ben Anderson
Aurora timelapse over Valdez April 24, 2012
The Living Alaska Project photo
The northern lights in winter 2012.
Lucie Steiger photo
Northern lights near Cold Foot, Alaska.
Photo courtesy Mike Criss, akphotograph.com
Northen lights over the North Slope
Ryan Soderlund photo
Northern Lights over Talkeetna Airport, 2-18-12
Photo courtesy Josh Martinez
The Northern Lights near Cantwell on April 12, 2012.
Courtesy Todd List
The northern lights in winter 2012.
Lucie Steiger photo
Aurora near Cold Foot, Alaska.
Photo courtesy Mike Criss, akphotograph.com
Northen lights over the North Slope 2
Ryan Soderlund photo
Northern Lights over Bethel on January 25, 2012.
Joe "Jojo" Prince photo
The Northern Lights in Nikiski, AK on March 9, 2012.
Courtesy Leon Richard
The northern lights in winter 2012.
Lucie Steiger photo
The aurora over North Pole, Alaska.
Photo courtesy Lara Poirrier, Northern Source Images
Aurora borealis over house.
Sam Amato photo
Northern lights dance over Bethel Alaska during the solar storm in January of 2012.
Joe "Jojo" Prince photo
The northern lights dancing over a home in Fairbanks, Alaska, during St. Patrick's Day weekend 2012.
Brandon Lovett photo
Aurora in Eagle River. March, 2012.
Photo courtesy Curtis Bingham
A rocket launched from Poker Flats to study the northern lights heads skyward.
Photo courtesy Lara Poirrier, Northern Source Images
Northern lights over the North Slope
Ryan Soderlund photo
Cherry red aurora borealis over the Elliot Highway during the early hours of January 22, 2012.
Lara Poirrier | Northern Source Images
A stunning display of the northern lights from Fairbanks, Alaska. March is prime time for aurora viewing, especially during the two weeks around new moon.
Brandon Lovett photo
Northern lights over the Cordova harbor on March 6, 2012.
Photo courtesy Chelsea Haisman
February aurora over North Pole, Alaska.
Photo courtesy Lara Poirrier, Northern Source Images
Northern lights over the North Slope
Ryan Soderlund photo
A red hue to the aurora borealis over the Elliot Highway during the solar flare event of January 2012.
Lara Poirrier | Northern Source Images
Traditionally, a good time for viewing and photographing aurora borealis activity is between 11 p.m. and 2 a.m. But don't bank on it: during strong solar storms aurora can be seen at all hours once the sky darkens.
Brandon Lovett photo
Aurora in Eagle River. March, 2012.
Photo courtesy Curtis Bingham
February aurora over North Pole, Alaska.
Photo courtesy Lara Poirrier, Northern Source Images
Northern lights dance over the mountains at Hatcher Pass, Alaska
Sam Amato photo
Captured from Birch Hill Cemetery in Fairbanks, Alaska, this photo shows that sometimes, no trees or background are needed, the beauty of the northern lights can stand alone.
Brandon Lovett photo
Ursa Major Amongst Aurora. Hatcher Pass, AK March, 9 2012
Photo courtesy Rick Antonio
Northern Lights outside of Delta Junction on Feb. 18, 2012.
Photo courtesy Andrew Downing
Northern lights over Hatcher Pass in the Mat-Su
Sam Amato photo
March 20th marks the first day of the spring equinox during which northern lights viewing is at its peak.
Brandon Lovett photo
The northern lights were so beautiful in Anchorage around 3am.
Photo courtesy of Moira C. Choi
Aurora outside of Delta Junction on February 18, 2012.
Photo courtesy Andrew Downing
Northern lights over Bethel, Alaska on January 25, 2012
Joe "Jojo" Prince photo
Photographers, it's time to get out your cameras! Prime time for norther lights viewing is during March around the spring equinox. The best time for photographing this wonder is between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. but with the increase in solar activity, you could catch a glimpse of them pretty much whenever it gets dark.
Brandon Lovett photo
March 2012 aurora from Chena Hot Springs Road.
Photo courtesy Thomas Popple
Aurora borealis over Healy, Alaska on Feb. 18, 2012
Bob Lype photo
Shot this back in October 2011 at Beluga Lake in Homer about 2am. Have not seen recent activitiy here (during January 2012 solar storms) due to cloud cover and snow.
Steve Young photo
If you need an excuse for a road trip, pack up the camera gear, bundle up the kids and head out beyond the city lights for a glimpse at these amazing displays in Fairbanks, Alaska.
Brandon Lovett photo
The northern lights from Shishmaref on March 6, 2012.
Photo courtesy Ken Stenek
Northern lights dance over Cook Inlet at West Anchorage's Earthquake Park
Frank Keller photo
Aurora borealis dances in Alaska during January 2012 solar storm
Rebekah Cadigan photo
The northern lights came out in North Pole for Valentine's day one day early. Feb 13, 2013
Courtesy Lara Poirrier / Northern Source Images
Shooting the northern lights requires some testing for the novice. It's time to start! If the preview shows up black, do not, repeat, DO NOT, delete. Your camera will capture more than meets the eye.
Brandon Lovett photo
Northern lights during a March 2012 solar storm.
Photo courtesy Sandee Rice
Northern Lights over Talkeetna Airport, 2-18-12
Photo courtesy Josh Martinez
Northern Lights over Talkeetna Airport, 2-18-12
Photo courtesy Josh Martinez
The northern lights came out in North Pole for Valentine's day one day early. Feb 13, 2013
Courtesy Lara Poirrier / Northern Source Images
At times aurora borealis activity comes in spurts. For all you photographers out there braving the cold, hoping to get some good pictures, don't head out or give up after the first show. Instead, consider heading back to your car and warming up.
Brandon Lovett photo
The Anchorage light pollution and moon were no match for this brilliant show!
Photo courtesy Holly Weiss-Racine
Northern Lights over the Elliot Highway on January 22, 2012
Lara Poirrier | Northern Source Images
Taken up near Chatanika, north of Fairbanks, on Jan. 21, 2012
Sandra Osborne photo
The northern lights came out in North Pole for Valentine's day one day early. Feb 13, 2013
Courtesy Lara Poirrier / Northern Source Images
Brilliant green northern lights can be seen from Birch Hill Cemetery in Fairbanks, Alaska. Watching these lights dance across the sky is one of the few events Alaskans have to look forward to during the long, dark, cold months of winter.
Brandon Lovett photo
Northern lights over Palmer on March 8, 2012.
Photo courtesy Thom Swavely
Aurora borealis in Goldstream Valley, Alaska, during January 2012 solar storm
Rebekah Cadigan photo
Lara Poirrier | Northern Source Images
The northern lights came out in North Pole for Valentine's day one day early. Feb 13, 2013
Courtesy Lara Poirrier / Northern Source Images
This photo was taken from Fairbanks, Alaska, a popular viewing place for Alaskans and visitors alike to sneak a peak at the lights. In fact, Fairbanks is such a popular location that some hotels offer wake up calls so you won't miss prime viewing time.
Brandon Lovett photo
Northern Lights from Earthquake Park, March 6, 2012.
Photo courtesy Christy Hedrick
Northern lights over Anchorage
Ryan Soderlund photo
Shot with a 1981 Canon Ae-1 over a 10-minute exposure period at Denali National Park, Alaska on Jan. 17, 2012.
Finney Kimsey photo
Northern Lights dancing above the Knik River early morning April 25, 2012.
Courtesy Arlen Ayojiak
Taken March 19th, 2012 at 1am in North Pole, Alaska. We had a North Pole Police officer pull over and check on what we were doing out in the middle of the street.
Lara Poirrier | Northern Source Images
March 2012 northern lights.
Photo courtesy Colin Tyler Bogucki
Aurora borealis dancing during the early hours of January 22, 2012. As seen from the Elliot Highway.
Lara Poirrier | Northern Source Images
Aurora viewed at Point Woronzof in West Anchorage, dancing over Fire Island in Cook Inlet.
Frank Keller photo
Northern Lights dancing above the Knik River early morning April 25, 2012.
Courtesy Arlen Ayojiak
The northern lights in March 2012 at milepost 201 on the Parks Highway.
Tracy Petersen photo
The northern lights and full moon.
Photo courtesy Colin Tyler Bogucki
Aurora borealis over Hatcher Pass, Alaska
Sam Amato photo
Northern lights dancing over Palmer, Alaska, on Jan. 24, 2012
Andrea Humphreys photo

It may still be too light over much of Alaska to see any of the atmospheric fireworks associated with solar activity, but the sun's been making a lot of noise this summer. On Thursday morning, the sun spat out a massive solar flare in Earth's general direction which may result in some brilliant northern lights in the northern U.S. and Alaska -- provided it's actually dark or cloudless enough to see them.

According to NASA's Goddard Space Center, the sun delivered an X-class flare -- the highest designation -- on Thursday morning around 9 a.m., launching a wave of charged particles known as a Coronal Mass Ejection toward the home planet. Once those particles start running into Earth's atmosphere, it could mean some solar storms, possible electrical interference and, of course, auroras.

The aurora forecast page for the Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska Fairbanks reflects when the CME should begin hitting Earth, jumping from a forecast of "quiet" on Friday to "extreme" on both Saturday and Sunday. The atmospheric interactions should occur all over the state, but it's going to be too light (or cloudy) over much of the region to see any of the fireworks.

In the weeks surrounding the summer solstice, it's too bright in the Interior and Northern Alaska to see any northern lights, even a bold display like the one expected Saturday. Alaskans on the latitude of Anchorage might have some minor luck, with a possible brief viewing window somewhere between 1 and 3 a.m. -- but don't hold your breath.

"Seeing it in summer is difficult because the sky is too bright in Alaska," Dirk Lummerzheim told Alaska Dispatch in May. "(Southeast) Alaska would definitely work, but the weather there tends to be too cloudy. And then, of course, we would need a fairly active aurora, so that it does move south."

This recent flare satisfies the "active" requirement, so your best chance of seeing Aurora will be further south -- Cordova, in eastern Prince William Sound, is expected to get in on the show, as is Southeast Alaska. But like Lummerzheim noted, the weather forecast doesn't look promising -- the National Weather Service is reporting clouds and rain for much of the Prince William Sound and Southeast regions.

Select others in the northern U.S. might have more luck, as the band of aurora is also expected to reach into the upper parts of North Dakota and Minnesota.

The strength of the solar flare and resulting CME also poses a chance for geomagnetic storms that could affect communications and electrical systems, though the intensity of such interruptions is difficult to gauge.

"One thing that models are NOT capable of is telling us is how strong the CME will be. SWPC forecasters have been inundated with models runs and suggestions of when the CME might arrive, however strength is not determined," the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Space Weather Prediction Center said Friday morning on its Facebook page. Forecasters estimated that storms could range from mild to moderate.

Even if most Alaskans will miss out on the show this weekend, there's surely plenty more to come. The sun has been producing sizeable solar flares all year, and the state got a glimpse of those in February and March. The sun is also still peaking in its 11-year solar cycle, and should continue to do so into 2013.

If you do happen to be in a position to witness the aurora this weekend, check out our handy explainer on how to photograph the northern lights. Or maybe even keep an ear out for them -- researchers confirmed earlier this week that the aurora is capable of producing noise.

Contact Ben Anderson at ben(at)alaskadispatch.com