Central New York is in for a real treat this year. Chances are extremely high we'll have numerous chances to see the Northern Lights.

Auroral activity "blitz" expected in 2024

NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center issued its latest auroral activity forecast and predicts the solar forces that produce these spectacular light shows will reach their peak this year.  Already we've seen proof of that with the auroral explosion that people across the globe caught on May 10.

Although the skies were cloudy in Central New York, the NOAA predicts there will be another chance to see the Northern Lights on Saturday, May 11.

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NOAA said in an official statement about this year's auroral activity:

Solar activity will increase more quickly and peak at a higher level than that predicted by an expert panel in December 2019. The updated prediction now calls for Solar Cycle 25 to peak between January and October of 2024.

A cycle is defined by the rise and fall in the number of sunspots, which affect space weather via solar flares, coronal mass ejections (CMEs), radio emissions and more.

Right now, our sun is heading toward the peak of what is called "Solar Cycle 25," which is an 11-year process where the magnetic poles of the sun flip.

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Those flips are what trigger CMEs and other aurora fuel. This cycle is predicted to reach its peak between January to October 2024. Scientifically put, once a cycle reaches its peak, its sunspot activity produces the most auroral activity.

In short, it means 2024 will be the year we'll have the highest possible chance for the aurora borealis to manifest in our skies.

What is an aurora borealis?

It's not often I get to espouse my profound love of all things SPACE. This topic was my jam when I was a kid - alongside the animal kingdom and Greek mythology.  So, in honor of my personal hero, Bill Nye, allow me to energetically tell you about the coolest and most beautiful natural event by far.

The Northern Lights are triggered when magnetic solar winds from our sun slam into Earth’s magnetic field. That interaction causes the upper atmosphere's atoms to glow - and the strength of the impact determines the light's intensity.

Northern Lights in Norway
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Those winds are triggered when CMEs, are sudden bursts of charged particles (electrons and protons) from the sun, impact the Earth's atmosphere

These winds shoot outwards at speeds faster than the speed of sound. The exact measurement of these winds are close to 2,000 miles per second - or roughly 7.2 million miles per hour.

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For the record, the speed of sound is roughly 767 miles per hour. And if you're wondering about the speed of light, it's 671 million miles per hour. You're welcome.

In short, these lights seemingly appear out of thin air because of how fast these solar winds move.  When they collide with the gasses in our atmosphere, they light off billions of flashes of lights, which is why the aurora borealis looks like its dancing in the sky.

Why Some Are Nervous about 2024

Now that it's been predicted our sun is about to enter a cycle that creates the most favorable conditions for auroras and its peak is slated to be stronger than initially expected - there are a few things that has weather experts concerned.

While seeing more Northern Lights is a lovely thing, some experts are worried how the sun's activity will negatively affect other functions of our daily lives.

CMEs are the explosion of the sun's plasma and magnetic material. While they do cause auroras, these flares are strong enough to also affect things like GPS signals and radio signals.

David Paul Morris, Getty Images
David Paul Morris, Getty Images

Heightened solar activity has been known to interfere with critical equipment like the electrical grid, and can also pose radiation hazards to those who work closer to space - like airline crews and astronauts. Intense solar activity can also increase orbital drag on satellites, which could impact all functions that humans need them for - like cell service and weather data.

The stronger a solar storm is, the more likely these critical functions will be impacted. You can read more about this on NOAA's website if you scroll down and click on the "impacts" tab.

Some Good News

While it sounds scary our electric grid and satellites can be negatively affected by strong solar storms, weather experts have also found something interesting about that total solar eclipse heading our way in April.

They found the cycle's maximum peak coincides with that eclipse and stated:

The sun may put on a good show, with a particularly impressive corona – the extended outer atmosphere of the sun that is only visible during an eclipse.

In short, 2024 will be interesting - and beautiful.

But if you can't wait to see an aurora, you can always catch the Canadian Space Agency's live feed of the skies in Yellowknife, which is an auroral hotspot.

Photographer Captures Stunning Northern Lights In Old Forge

It's not really common to see northern lights in Central New York, but photographer Kurt Gardner captured the beautiful conformation of them near Old Forge.

Gallery Credit: Credit - Polly McAdams

Northern Lights Captured Lighting Up Hudson Valley Skies

The rumors were true and the Northern Lights showed up across the Hudson Valley. Thankfully, we're home to some skilled photographers who were able to capture the stunning event. 

Photographer Captures Stunning Northern Lights Show in Adirondacks

Shane Muckey captured stunning pictures of the Northern Lights in the Adirondacks.

Gallery Credit: Credit - Polly McAdams

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