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If geomagnetic storm strong enough, Aurora Borealis may show over Northwest

(File, Associated Press)

Hopeful sky gazers are hoping to get the rare chance to spot the Aurora Borealis over the weekend, but it’s going to depend on how strong a geomagnetic storm hits near earth.

The National Weather Service and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued a geomagnetic storm watch for Sunday and Monday.

Here’s what that means and how that happens.

Earlier on Friday a huge sunspot erupted on the surface of our sun, and an enormous solar flare – which is an explosion – ejected from the area. This explosion produced what scientists call a coronal mass ejection (CME).

If the storm is strong enough, Washington State could be in for a show, but KIRO 7 Pinpoint Meteorologist Morgan Palmer cautions we won’t know for sure until late Sunday evening. That’s because the energy levels tend to fluctuate wildly during a geomagnetic storm greatly affecting how far south the Northern Lights are visible.

The aurora borealis — the “Northern Lights” — is a region of charged gases in the ionosphere, a region around 50 miles above the earth’s surface. These gases give off light from green to orange to red depending on the type of gas being excited by the charged solar particles.

How to watch

— Peak viewing time will be from around midnight to 3 a.m., but aurora can potentially be seen through most of the overnight hours.

— If the auroral forecast predicts a visible aurora, get away from light pollution in urban areas and away from any bright lights. The darker your sky, the better.

— Look north on the horizon. You may see a faint glow or much more. Remember, how vibrant a display will be is highly unpredictable.

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