Social media lit up earlier this week with photos Kodiak residents had snapped of the northern lights rippling overhead. Catching a glimpse of the aurora borealis in the northern part of Alaska isn’t that unusual. It’s a little less common further south, but the island could see another light show over the next few days.
“I know that for this weekend the forecast is for fairly moderate activity and I think Kodiak is within the oval of anticipated activity, so this weekend could be good if you have clear skies,” said Peter Delamere, a professor of space physics at the University of Alaska Fairbanks’s Geophysical Institute.
The natural light show is caused by disturbances on the surface of the sun that pull on the magnetic field surrounding earth. Electrons from those solar disturbances break into the atmosphere and release colored light as they interact with different types of gas. Streaks of green are caused by electrons colliding with oxygen, and red light comes from nitrogen.
It’s all really complicated – even for scientists – explained Delamere, and predicting the aurora can be just as difficult. Scientists use a combination of data beamed down from equipment in space and computer modeling to predict when and where the aurora might be at its peak. Luckily, you don’t need to be a space physicist to observe the effects. Delamere said further north at the Geophysical Institute in Fairbanks, the aurora can appear on the southern horizon. That’s not as typical in southern areas of the state like Kodiak.
“Definitely look north, look for the southern-most auroral arc,” said Delamere. “If you see it moving farther and farther south, keep an eye on it because that’s where it’s going to explode from.”
The forecast shows aurora activity through Sunday. The best viewing is typically between 1 and 3 a.m., but Delamere said some of the best aurora displays he’s seen have been just before dawn or in the early evening. He said patience is key, and to plan for a late night.