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Northern Lights Could Appear Again Next Week in Short "Window of Opportunity"

The geomagnetic storm is predicted to make nightfall on June 6.

Over Mother's Day weekend, stargazers had a front-row seat to one of the most spectacular natural light shows to ever grace our country's night sky. The kaleidoscopic display was viewed in over a dozen U.S. states—an extremely rare occurrence for Americans, as the Northern Lights are typically at their brightest and fullest in the Aurora Zone, which stretches across Iceland, Norway, Sweden, and Canada. But for those who missed it, listen up: Forecasters predict that Aurora Borealis' second act is just days away.

RELATED: New Star Will "Explode" in the Night Sky—How to See the "Once-in-a-Lifetime" Event.

According to Space, the Northern Lights happen when "energized particles from the sun slam into Earth's upper atmosphere at speeds of up to 45 million mph." The fluorescence of these dancing particles can be visible in shades of pink, purple, blue, and green.

"Every type of atom or molecule, whether it's atomic hydrogen or a molecule like carbon dioxide, absorbs and radiates its own unique set of colors, which is analogous to how every human being has a unique set of fingerprints," Billy Teets, the director of Dyer Observatory at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, told Space.

The chromatic intensity of the Northern Lights is dependent on the moon's lunar phrase. As with any celestial light show, a sky without moonlight will provide a bigger (AKA, darker) stage. This makes the event more visible for stargazers on the ground—as was the case with the Mother's Day spectacle, which occurred right after May's new moon when the sky was already particularly dark, per Live Science.

However, the May 12 light show was a group effort. According to Live Science, it was "the result of at least five solar storms that hit Earth simultaneously, all originating from a massive sunspot known as active region 3664." Also known as AR3664/AR13664, the dark patch is estimated to be 15 times wider than Earth.

For many astrophiles, the Northern Lights is truly a once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon. But auspiciously, AR3664/AR13664 will be "Earth-facing" once again when the sun rotates on its axis on June 6. This will also conveniently align with June's new moon, setting the stage for another glorious light shower.

"It will align nicely," Ryan French, a solar physicist at Colorado's National Solar Observatory (NSO), told Live Science. "As soon as the sunspot starts to appear, we will enter the window of opportunity [for viewing auroras]."

Should the auroras make themselves known, it will happen when AR3664/AR13664 reaches the center of the sun. Live Science reports that's when "the sun-Earth system will be most connected," and the likelihood of a Northern Lights display is at its peak.

"That's exactly where it produced all of those large flares," French explained. "But in theory, if you had a large enough eruption, even if it's to the left of the sun's center, we could still get the edge of that impact."

It takes about 27 days for the moon to complete its orbit around Earth, which means the next new moon will occur around June 6. But scientists suggest checking on the night sky in the days prior because if June's geomagnetic storm is anything like May's, we could be in for multiple nights of Northern Lights.

While the Northern Lights are visible to the naked eye, you'll have a clearer view in regions that aren't populated with city lights, pollution, and clouds.

Emily Weaver
Emily is a NYC-based freelance entertainment and lifestyle writer — though, she’ll never pass up the opportunity to talk about women’s health and sports (she thrives during the Olympics). Read more
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