As soon as Friday night, the northern lights could be visible over much of the northern United States, possibly as far south as Alabama — including Maryland.

The Space Weather Prediction Center issued a Severe Geomagnetic Storm Watch on Thursday, meaning “several” coronal mass ejections will “quite likely” reach Earth, causing elevated geomagnetic activity.

You could imagine a burst of wind coming from the sun and traveling toward earth, carrying high-energy particles with it that will interact with our atmosphere.

“We haven’t seen this in such a long time,” said Shawn Dahl, a service coordinator at the Space Weather Prediction Center.

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This is the first significant solar activity watch of its kind issued since January 2005. Experts described the arrival of overlapping coronal mass ejections, or CMEs, from the sun as “an unusual event.”

The Space Weather Prediction Center said late Friday morning that at least seven CMEs are headed toward Earth and technologies including high frequency communication, GPS and power grids could be impacted.

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The strong solar flares observed over this last week from the Space Weather Prediction Center were associated with “a large and magnetically complex” cluster of sunspots in a region on the sun that is 16 times the diameter of the Earth.

A forecast from the University of Alaska Fairbanks Geophysical Institute said aurora activity will be visible overhead — weather permitting — as far south as Raleigh, North Carolina, and Little Rock, Arkansas, on Saturday.

How can I see the northern lights?

Exact timing of the northern lights is uncertain, experts said. There’s a point 1 million miles from Earth, between us and the sun, called L1. When the CMEs pass through that point, spacecraft positioned there will get a better sense of the size, power and direction of them.

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“We can take that information and then use that to refine predictions” of aurora size and geomagnetic impact, said Rob Steenburg, a space scientist with the Space Weather Prediction Center.

That point of contact could happen as soon as Friday evening or into the weekend.

While it’s not yet clear how far south the northern lights will be visible, experts from the Space Weather Prediction Center said previous large events like this have resulted in the aurora being visible as far south as Central America.

To (potentially) see something in Maryland, head outside when it’s dark and the skies are clear. You may want to consider going somewhere with less light pollution, away from cities and other development.

The image sensors on smartphones are better able to view the lights than the human eye is sometimes, according to the Space Weather Prediction Center experts. So, even if you don’t think you can see anything, it’s worth pointing your phone’s camera at the sky and taking a picture, especially if it has a longer exposure time.

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What is a coronal mass ejection? Is the solar storm safe?

A coronal mass ejection is a space weather event. Specifically, they’re ejections or expulsions of plasma and magnetic field from the sun’s corona — the outermost layer of its atmosphere.

If one reaches Earth, it creates a shock wave in the magnetosphere that can cause a temporary disturbance called a geomagnetic storm. It is not a phenomenon that people on Earth can feel or be harmed by.

The magnetic activity can disrupt satellites and other technologies. In 1989, a geomagnetic storm caused a power outage in Canada for about nine hours. Just two years ago, a geomagnetic storm destroyed 40 Starlink satellites. The most infamous solar storm resulted in what’s called the Carrington Event, which disrupted telegraph service worldwide in 1859.

The coming geomagnetic storm is not forecast to be as strong as the Carrington Event, but still, experts said the activity this weekend has caught their attention.

“For most people, here on planet Earth, they won’t have to do anything,” Steenburgh said. “Everything is working like it should. The grid will be stable.”

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The most visible manifestation, and therefore the most noticeable, will be the aurora.

“If you’re in an area where its dark, cloud-free, relatively unpolluted by light, you may be able to see an impressive aurora display,” Steenburgh said. “That’s the gift from space weather”

You can find the latest information at the Space Weather Prediction Center.

Cody Boteler is a reporter on The Banner’s Express Desk, reporting on breaking news, trending stories and interesting things in and around Baltimore. His work has appeared in The Baltimore Sun, USA TODAY, Baltimore magazine and others.

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