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Unusual solar storm expected to push northern lights south this weekend

Nature: Northern Lights

Star gazers in cities as far south as New York and Chicago may get a rare glimpse of the northern lights this weekend due to an unusual geomagnetic storm.

A giant cloud of charged particles from the solar corona — the layer of gas surrounding the sun, known as a coronal mass ejection (CME), is expected to hit Earth on Saturday, according to the Space Weather Prediction Center of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The weather prediction center issued a geomagnetic storm watch on Wednesday after detecting a small solar flare, a high-energy burst fired by a sunspot, that was followed by a CME.

When the CME hits Earth, all those particles colliding with Earth's magnetic field could turn up the range and the intensity of the aurora, also known as the northern and southern lights. 

The Aurora in both poles is caused by particles from the sun that are constantly flowing toward our planet, but a CME delivers an extra large helping that can really amp up the display, CNET reported.  

As a result, the northern lights, which are usually only visible in places like Alaska, Norway, or Iceland, will be able to be seen from lower latitudes, including New York, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Washington state. 

Skies will have to be clear to see the stunning spectacle. Experts recommend getting as far away from cities or urban areas as possible as pollution can hinder your view.

Scientists aren't sure exactly what time the CME will reach Earth. For updates, visit the NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center.