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Northern lights to shine over parts of the U.S., Canada tonight

Nature: Northern Lights
Nature: Northern Lights 00:35

Days after a super blood wolf moon lit up the night sky, skygazers in parts of northern U.S. and Canada may be able to witness the aurora borealis, or northern lights, late Wednesday into early Thursday.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Space Weather Prediction Center issued an alert that said, "G1 (Minor) geomagnetic storms are likely on Jan 24 due to influence from a recurrent, positive polarity CH HSS," which stands for coronal hole high speed stream. Geomagnetic storms, a temporary disturbance of the Earth's magnetosphere caused by a solar wind, enhance the view of northern lights, according to NASA.

Despite the partial government shutdown, the Space Weather Prediction Center's aurora forecast model continues mapping out where you can find the aurora borealis. Weather permitting, the lights may be visible on the northern horizon between 8 p.m. ET Wednesday to 2 a.m. Thursday for viewers in Alaska, Canada and some areas of the northern U.S.

Facts about the northern lights

NASA explains that the aurora borealis results from electrons colliding with the upper reaches of Earth's atmosphere. The aurora typically forms 80,000 to 500,000 meters above Earth's surface (about 50 to 310 miles up).

Though normally visible only in northern latitudes near the Arctic Circle, when space weather activity increases and more frequent and larger solar storms and substorms occur, the aurora extends farther towards the equator. During large events, the aurora can be observed as far south as parts of the U.S., Europe, and Asia.

Where is the best place to watch the northern lights? 

The Geographical Institute at University of Alaska Fairbanks predicts "high" auroral activity Thursday. According to the research center, the displays will be visible overhead from Inuvik, Yellowknife, Rankin and Iqaluit to Juneau, Alaska, as well as Edmonton and Winnipeg, Canada. The northern lights may be visible low on the northern horizon from Seattle, Des Moines, Chicago, Cleveland, Boston and Halifax.

The most important recommendation from the research center is that you need a "clear and dark sky" in order to see the northern lights.

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