Missed the dazzling northern lights show? You might get another chance Saturday night

Marshall Falcon, left, photographs the northern lights as he and Angie Avitia watch the celestial display from Perkins Peninsula Park, west of Eugene, Oregon, on Friday. A second chance to view the magnificent auroras will arrive Saturday evening.

Marshall Falcon, left, photographs the northern lights as he and Angie Avitia watch the celestial display from Perkins Peninsula Park, west of Eugene, Oregon, on Friday. A second chance to view the magnificent auroras will arrive Saturday evening. (Chris Pietsch, Register Guard/USA Today Network via CNN)

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ATLANTA — A second chance to view the magnificent auroras produced by a series of solar flares and coronal mass ejections from the sun will arrive Saturday evening in case you missed the previous night's spectacle.

Auroras might be seen as far south as Alabama later Saturday, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Space Weather Prediction Center. The best viewing will be across the Ohio River Valley through the Midwest and into the Pacific Northwest.

The increased solar activity created stunning shows of dancing green, purple and red lights in night skies Friday across the Northern Hemisphere.

"I am going to go out and say, I don't think it's going to be as strong," Bill Murtagh, program coordinator for the Space Weather Prediction Center, told CNN Saturday.

"It was extraordinary. Now we do have some more of these eruptions coming … It's just so rare to get as strong as it was last night. However, we do expect to see more strong storming."

In general, it's good to start looking during the time right after sunset. Weather, of course, is key, as cloud cover may limit the visibility of the aurora.

"Don't worry about it because this is not like an eclipse. This is a multiday event," CNN meteorologist Chad Myers said.

"It will be visible across most of North America, maybe not all the way down to the Gulf Coast, but it'll be close."

Cloudy conditions will persist from the Rockies into Texas and the northern Gulf Coast as well as much of the Northeast.

The Space Weather Prediction Center, a division of the National Weather Service, observed conditions of an extreme geomagnetic storm at 6:54 p.m. ET on Friday evening, reaching a level 5 out of 5 severity. The last time a solar storm of this magnitude reached Earth was in October 2003, resulting in power outages in Sweden and damaged power transformers in South Africa, according to the center.

Signs of a severe geomagnetic storm, or level 4, were first observed by scientists at the center at 12:37 p.m. ET, when a major disturbance was detected in Earth's magnetic field. Previously, the center issued a geomagnetic storm watch on Thursday evening, the first such watch issued since January 2005.

But the forecast was upgraded after scientists observed G5, or extreme geomagnetic storm, conditions Friday evening.

As the sun nears the peak of activity in its 11-year cycle, known as solar maximum, later this year, researchers have observed increasingly intense solar flares erupting from the fiery orb.

Increased solar activity causes auroras that dance around Earth's poles, known as the northern lights, or aurora borealis, and southern lights, or aurora australis. When the energized particles from coronal mass ejections reach Earth's magnetic field, they interact with gases in the atmosphere to create different colored light in the sky.

"Overnight, aurora were visible across much of the United States. Weather permitting, they may be visible again tonight," the Space Weather Prediction Center said Saturday.

"The extreme geomagnetic storm continues and will persist through at least Sunday."

The storm could affect the power grid as well as satellite and high-frequency radio communications. The Biden administration said it is monitoring the possibility of impacts.

Bill Nye the Science Guy, an educator and engineer, said the massive solar storm could cause problems in a world that relies so much on electricity.

Nye noted that a solar storm in 1859, known as the Carrington Event, lasted a week and severely affected telegraph communications, which at the time were state of the art.

"The other thing, everybody, that is a real danger to our technological society, different from 1859, is how much we depend on electricity and our electronics and so on," Nye said. "None of us really in the developed world could go very long without electricity."

There are systems in place to minimize the impact but "stuff might go wrong," said Nye, noting not all transformers are equipped to withstand a massive solar event.

"For me, it's just like the April 8 total solar eclipse. It really brings the fact that we live on a planet that's orbiting a star that's in a galaxy to our front door. It brings it down to earth," Dr. Hakeem Oluseyi, an astrophysicist, told CNN.

"If you ask me, I'd say a total solar eclipse is clearly No. 1. But next to a bright comet, aurorae are pretty amazing to see. And if you're near the northern extremes or the southern extremes, we cannot just get the colors in the sky, but the actual undulating curtains of nebulosity. That's pretty awesome. So the fact that that's going to extend to more people around the world, that's pretty cool."

Nye added, "Let's celebrate this."

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Ray Sanchez


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