The northern lights are one of the great wonders of the world. While many people put the aurora borealis on their bucket lists, most Americans think they have to travel to Iceland, Norway or other frigid, far-away countries to see them. But this year — and specifically this week — it's a little different.
A couple environmental factors made these dancing, colorful lights visible in unusual spots of the United States, like Washington, D.C., on Tuesday night. The reason? Well, in order for the natural phenomenon to occur, the sun needs to release charged particles that collide with gaseous particles in the Earth's atmosphere.
Right now, a solar storm is producing a whole lot more of those particles and stretching the magnetic field, making the lights visible in more parts of the world.
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What’s more exciting is that you still have the chance to see the aurora borealis again tonight, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says there's a longer aurora watch in effect. The lights are predicted to stay visible through Oct. 26, and with a new moon occurring Oct. 30, the skies will be especially dark.
That means prime aurora viewing in the northern part of the U.S. — as long as the skies are clear. It's even projected that the lights will be visible in Maine, Michigan, the Dakotas and as far south as Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois.
If you don’t get a chance to see them in your backyard, or if you live in a more southern part of the country, the northern lights are still much closer this year than before. Because this winter is expected to be colder than average, there's a stronger potential for them to be visible from places like Buffalo, New York, throughout the season.
And hot spot Alberta, Canada, is just a short flight from Denver, Chicago, Seattle and many other major U.S. markets. The province is home to the world’s two largest dark sky preserves — Wood Buffalo and Jasper national parks — making for some of the clearest viewing locations to see the lights.
You can check here for live updates on where the aurora can be seen.