The Northern Lights are magical, but not everyone is lucky enough to live in a city where they’ll dance in the sky above your house.
If, however, you live in Canada, 2024 could be your year to see them in all of their bright green glory, no matter how far south you may be.
As Robyn Fiory, a research scientist and space weather duty forecaster with Enercan’s Canadian Hazards Information Service explained to Curiocity – we’re in the thick of something remarkable.
Look up, get out and buckle in. We’ve got a colourful couple of months ahead!
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What are the Northern Lights?
Before we get in too deep, it’s important to note how the lights work and why we see them in the first place.
As you may know, it’s actually the sun that we have to thank for them.
“There’s a constant stream of energetic particles and radiation always coming from the sun and we call this the solar winds and the interplanetary magnetic field,” Fiory told us.
“Whenever we have changes in that background solar wind it causes our magnetic field to fluctuate which can eventually cause an ejection of particles into our upper atmosphere called the ionosphere – this is how the northern lights are formed.”
The 11-year cycle
Feel like you’ve seen the lights more often lately? It’s not a coincidence!
As it turns out the sun goes through actually goes through phases – like seasons, but more explosive.
According to our expert, we’re entering an 11-year cycle in which extra particles and coronal mass ejections are going to be appearing on the sun more often.
This is considered a period of solar maximum and is truly a sight to see.
“During a period of solar minimum, we wouldn’t see very many active regions on the sun, and we wouldn’t see many solar flares and we wouldn’t see very many coronal mass ejections, but then as we move to a period of solar maximum we’re going to see a lot more flares and a lot more coronal mass ejections and a lot more space weather.”
For this reason, we’ll likely see the northern lights more often and it’ll look even more impressive than in recent memory.
“Whenever we have higher speed streams than normal or we have high energy particles or an influx of particles coming from the sun, this is when we have a lot of space weather activity and a lot of Aurora forming.”
“The Aurora will be brighter because we’re going to be seeing it over a wider region, that region within where we see the Aurora – the Aurora Oval, we call it – it spreads across Canada and that can expand down to lower latitudes and cause us to see the Aurora in places that we aren’t used to seeing them.”
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When does it peak?
So when exactly, can we expect to see the best of it? Consider yourself in the right place at the right time.
“There are predictions as to when our solar cycle is going to peak and we’re going to see that absolute maximum level. The predictions right now say it’s going to happen roughly in 2024 or 2025,” she continued, adding that this cycle is going to be bigger and better than those before it.
“What makes this solar cycle a bit more interesting is that our last 11-year solar cycle had a pretty weak peak compared to past solar cycles and our current solar cycle is already turning out to be a bit stronger than our last one. We’re seeing more activity now than we did near the peak of the last 11-year solar cycle.”
Amazing, right? So get excited, Canada, but stay alert. While the lights will be a sight to behold, they also come with a price – one that we likely won’t have to pay thanks to our technological advances, but we should be wary of.
“Space weather does impact a number of technologies – any kind of long conductors, like a set of power lines can be impacted by space weather.”
“What happens is currents can be induced into these long conductors and that can cause fluctuations and it can be a number of different impacts to that so we can have maybe a tripping out of a system, we could have physical damage to a transformer and this can of course, result in power outages.”
“All of that being said, this kind of impact is not a surprise to the power companies, it’s something that’s well-studied and they do have contingencies in place and they are monitoring for space weather and they are monitoring the impacts on their systems.”
As always we’ll keep you updated on Canada’s space weather forecasts, but in the meantime, tell your friends and enjoy.
We’ve got a front-row seat to an incredible show and It’s going to be enchanting.