Every so often, Minnesota’s night sky is painted green by the Aurora Borealis, better known as the”northern lights”.
While the lights are usually associated with places much farther north than Minnesota, Auroras can be spotted year-round from areas with dark skies. The lights can be seen from most places in the state, provided you are away from large population centers. Light pollution–the ambient light given off by lights from cities–makes the night sky much harder to observe and often hides the green bands and spires from the naked eye. To see the lights for yourself, it’s best to find a spot far away from large towns and cities. (You can find a good, dark place with minimal light pollution using this handy map!)
It’s not always enough to be in the right place if you want to see the Aurora Borealis, however. You’ll also want to check the forecasts: not just the normal weather predictions, but also space weather. That’s right: space weather! Plan to be outside and facing north on a clear and cloudless night sometime after the sun has set. Then, check the space weather forecast using the NOAA’s space weather prediction center, which lists forecasts for the probability of a visible Aurora.
Like weather forecasts, space weather predictions are not always correct. Sometimes you just won’t see anything, even from the right place on a clear night with lots of solar activity. But don’t get discouraged! Peak Aurora activity runs from October to April and continues year-round to give you plenty of chances to spot one of Minnesota’s natural wonders.