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Will Utah See the Northern Lights?

A view of the Northern Lights as seen from the International Space Station

A massive solar flare has erupted from the sun and is sending geomagnetic disturbance and solar radiation straight at the earth. But you shouldn't be worried, and you might even want to grab your camera.

Bill Murtagh is the program coordinator at the National Weather Service Space Weather Prediction Center. He says the geomagnetic disturbances and increased solar radiation the Earth will see Friday and Saturday aren’t really a health concern, but they’ll still have impacts.

“Eruptions from the sun, and these magnetic storms, can interfere with some of that critical technology, such as the electric power grid, GPS systems, aviation, satellites.”

Murtaugh says most of the time the general public doesn’t even notice the effects of these solar storms, unless they’re able to get a glimpse of the northern lights.

“So you need the clear skies, and you need to get away from the light pollution, but a storm of this magnitude certainly can produce aurora that will be visible in the northern tier states and may extend down into northern Utah,” he says.

But Murtaugh also warns that, this far south, any visible aurora might not look like you expect.

“Some people expect to see those marvelous images we see sometimes on the TV, with the veils and the curtains and all that structure and motion," he says. "It has to be a very powerful storm to see that kind of structure down south, so a lot of times what you’re looking at is a glowing, changing color up to the North.”

Forecasts predict the storm could last through Saturday. Solar flare’s of this magnitude don’t impact the Earth that frequently. The last time it happened was in June of 2013. 

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