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Here's how a solar storm made viewing the Aurora Borealis possible Friday night


The northern lights, also known as aurora borealis, were expected to illuminate the sky in Canada Friday night into Saturday morning -- including in Toronto -- thanks to a rare and severe solar storm.

“Even Toronto is actually inside the predicted viewing area for aurora for tonight,” York University Astronomy Professor Elaina Hyde said early Friday evening.

A burst of material exploded off the sun on Thursday, triggering a severe geomagnetic storm that hasn’t taken place to this degree in almost 20 years.

“What happens is, if you can imagine a stream of charged particles flying towards the Earth. It hits earth’s magnetic field and the magnetic field funnels those particles towards the north and south poles and they interact with the atmosphere, which is when you see the northern lights,” Hyde explained.

Usually, she said the lights are only in view near the poles, but in this case, more particles are hitting Earth’s magnetic field and the activity is spreading to places that typically don’t see the notorious lightshow.

This particular storm is so severe that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NCAA) declared it a G4, the second highest level given to solar storms, which hasn’t taken place since 2005.

The current solar cycle has only had three severe geomagnetic storms, with one in 2003 resulting in power outages in Sweden and damaged power transformers in South Africa.

Already, Hyde said the solar storm coming our way has caused outages in Europe and the chances of power or communications outages in other parts of the world is even higher than expected.

“[I’d] recommend folks to just take some cautions for possible power outages,” Hyde said.

The upside of the outage is it’s generated by the same impact of material on the earth’s magnetic field as the northern lights, Hyde explained. “It means we actually have a chance to view it.”

The best viewing times are location-dependent. In Ontario and Quebec, the prime timeslot is between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. In Alberta, it’s 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. and in British Columbia, it’s 8 p.m. to 2 a.m.

Light pollution and cloudy skies can wash out a clear view of the northern lights, so Hyde recommends a dark corner of a park or leaving the city, if possible.

“A lot of people at lower latitudes will have never seen an aurora before, so this would be a great time tonight,” Hyde said. Top Stories

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