The Northern Lights could reach New York, Chicago and Portland on Wednesday evening

  • Plasma rashes from the Sun are heading towards Earth and will likely cause a geomagnetic storm.
  • This could bring the northern Lights south to New York, Chicago and Portland Wednesday night.
  • Solar storms can disrupt radio, GPS, satellites and other technologies.

Flares of electrically charged plasma from the sun could push the aurora borealis as far as New York, Chicago and Portland, Oregon on Wednesday evening.

Solar flares are called coronal mass ejections (CMEs). They’re named for their origins in the corona, the outer layer of the sun’s atmosphere, and a slew of them are heading towards Earth right now. According to Space Weather Prediction Centera branch of the National Weather Service.

the blue image shows white plasma emerging from a dark circle where the sun is located

A coronal mass ejection (CME) erupts from the sun on August 17, 2022. The sun is blocked out so its corona is visible.

NOAA/Center for Space Weather Prediction

The aurora occurs when Earth’s magnetic field channels electrically charged solar particles toward the poles, where the particles interact with gases in Earth’s atmosphere. This is what creates brightly colored ribbons.

When CMEs send floods of these particles towards Earth, it causes a geomagnetic storm, which can produce particularly stunning auroras.

earth magnetic field solar wind aurora poles charged particles

The Earth’s magnetic field channels charged particles from the sun towards the poles.

NASA/K Goddard Conceptual Image Laboratory. Kim

Geomagnetic storms can wreak havoc on power grids and satellites

Solar storms don’t just bring pretty auroras. Flooding of solar particles can also interfere with power grids, GPS and radio communications, and even affect satellite orbits around Earth. Wednesday’s storm isn’t expected to have much of an impact on the tech, but past solar storms have caused issues.

coronal mass ejection sun

The sun blows out a coronal mass ejection on February 24, 2015.


In 1989, a flood of particles from the sun knocked out the power of Quebec for about nine hours. Two other solar storms cut off emergency radio communications for a total of 11 hours shortly after Hurricane Irma in 2017. A solar storm can even have turn off Titanic’s SOS broadcasts as it sank on April 14, 1912, but this is not known for certain.

Bursts of solar activity can also endanger astronauts in Earth orbit by interfering with their spacecraft or cutting communications with mission control.

red green aurora borealis over pine lake

Swirls of green and red appear in an aurora over Whitehorse, Yukon on the night of September 3, 2012.

Courtesy of David Cartier, Sr./NASA/Reuters

Thus, studying the source of charged solar particles could help scientists understand how to protect both astronauts and the Earth’s power grid from these unpredictable electrical storms. This is exactly what two spacecraft do in orbit around the sun.

In February 2020, NASA and the European Space Agency launched the solar orbiter to capture data on flares on the sun’s surface. from NASA Parker Solar Probe also revolves around the sun. It is designed to measure solar flares as they occur, tracing the flow of material from the sun to Earth in real time.

spaceship sun solar orbiter

Artist’s impression of Solar Orbiter observing an eruption on the sun.


The information these spacecraft collect could one day help scientists predict other geomagnetic storms before they occur.

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