Another Dazzling Aurora Display Could Happen in June

Watch the skies during the first week of June if you want to get a glimpse of the northern lights below the Arctic Circle.

From May 10th to the 12th, an extremely unusual phenomenon occurred: the strongest geomagnetic storm on Earth in over twenty years. As a result, the sky lit up with vibrant aurora borealis as far south as Mexico and Florida.

The active region AR3664/AR13664 is a large sunspot that is almost fifteen times bigger than our Earth. It was the source of several solar storms that struck Earth at the same time. When the charged particles clashed with the Earth’s magnetosphere, they were directed toward the poles, creating dazzling auroras as they went.

Notably, the aftermath of the solar storms showed up a few nights following the new moon in May, when the moonlight was not shining down on the night sky so brightly, allowing even the faintest auroras to be seen.

Due to the sun’s rotation every 27 days, the sunspot dipped out of sight around one week later.  However, it continued to emit solar flares. The most powerful solar flare since September 2017—rated as X12—was released on May 20. It was picked up by the Solar Orbiter spacecraft operated by the European Space Agency.

As the sun moves across the sky, AR3664/AR13664 will once again be visible, and on June 6, it will be facing Earth.

When the giant sunspot returns in late May or early June, it will be at its most linked with the sun-Earth system from our vantage point when it reaches somewhat to the right of the sun’s core. At that time, solar weather is likely to affect Earth, which might lead to another aurora show at lower latitudes.

Stay vigilant for any possible geomagnetic activity since the new moon on June 6 occurs twenty-seven days after May 10. Auroras can only be seen when clouds and light pollution are not in the way. Because sunspots are more common and cause stronger solar flares at solar maximum, there may be opportunities to see the aurora this year. Researchers are beginning to think that the peak of this cycle may be here and that it may strike us more quickly and with more force than expected. We won’t know for sure when the maximum will occur until the cycle finishes and the sun starts to quiet down.