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Aurora alert: Geomagnetic storm could bring northern lights to Maryland

Your Thursday morning news roundup: 11/30/2023
Your Thursday morning news roundup: 11/30/2023 01:53

BALTIMORE -- Just after midnight tonight, a strong geomagnetic storm is forecast to affect Earth, and a spectacular light show might be visible in Maryland. 

The chance to witness the aurora borealis, commonly known as the northern lights, in Maryland is only possible if the sky conditions behave, WJZ's Chief Meteorologist Derek Beasley reports. Clouds are expected to increase Thursday night. 

Typically, in order to see the aurora in Maryland you need the Kp index to spike to 7 or above. The Kp index tonight is 7. 

aurora borealis
The northern lights, or the aurora borealis, over the Vestrahorn mountain in Iceland, March 5, 2022. Owen Humphreys/PA Images via Getty Images

The Kp index is a global geomagnetic activity indicator that is measured and updated every three hours. It is a scale designed to quantify disturbances in the Earth's magnetic field caused by solar wind and solar storms. 

The Kp index ranges from 0 to 9, with 0 indicating very little geomagnetic activity and 9 signifying extreme geomagnetic storm conditions.

Here's a breakdown of what the different levels of the Kp index mean:

Kp 0-1 (Quiet): Very little geomagnetic activity.

Kp 2-3 (Unsettled): Minor geomagnetic activity.

Kp 4 (Active): Increased geomagnetic activity, often associated with auroras at higher latitudes.

Kp 5 (Minor Storm): Geomagnetic storm conditions, with auroras possibly visible at mid-latitudes.

Kp 6 (Moderate Storm): Strong geomagnetic storm, with a higher chance of seeing auroras at mid-latitudes.

Kp 7 (Strong Storm): Very strong geomagnetic activity. Auroras may be visible at lower latitudes than usual.

Kp 8-9 (Severe to Extreme Storm): Extremely high geomagnetic activity, with auroras potentially visible at very low latitudes.

This index is vital for many reasons, including its use in assessing the risk of geomagnetic storms to satellites, power grids, and communication systems. 

It's also a key tool for those wanting to observe auroras as higher Kp values can indicate better chances to view auroras at lower latitudes.

The best viewing will be away from city lights in complete darkness. Then look toward the northern horizon (break out that compass app on your phone to find magnetic North) and dress for the cold!  

To learn more about the northern lights, click here. 

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