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Northern Lights likely visible tonight near Spokane

A strong solar storm will give those in the northern U.S. a good chance to see the northern lights Wednesday night.

SPOKANE, Wash. — Avid nighttime sky watchers will be out tonight to see a glimpse of the northern lights. Also know as the Aurora Borealis, the northern lights will be best viewed during the evening of Wednesday, August 17th, generally before midnight.

For the northern U.S., the best way to see the northern lights is to get away from city lights and metro-areas in general to reduce the amount of light pollution in the sky. In other words, get to as dark of a location as possible so you can see the finer details of the night sky.

In terms of timing, it's best to maximize the number of hours between the expected peak of the solar storms and minimize the number of hours while the moon is high in the sky, which can add lights and thus obscure the aurora.

The forecast KP-Index, which is used to judge the strength of magnetic field disruptions, is at a 7 (strong) between 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. pacific time (or 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. eastern time). The Space Weather Prediction Center rated the current solar storm at G3, or a "minor-strong geomagnetic storm."

The moon is currently in its waning gibbous phase, and rises at 10:39 p.m. in Spokane. So by midnight, the moon will start to shine brighter. 

The geomagnetic storm responsible for the aurora's activity is a result of a coronal mass ejection (CME) from the sun just hours ago. It's the plasma material thrown out from the sun cased Earth's magnetic field to bend and react to the material. The reaction with Earth's upper atmosphere is what creates the aurora. And because of the bending of the magnetic field, locations farther south, like the northern U.S., can then have a chance to see the beautiful display!

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