‘Shocking sight’ as aurora descends in Western Maryland

Spotters in Western Maryland will be the first in the nation to see a display of “monsters” peaking during a weeklong run of aurora borealis.

Scientists say this will be the week when the northern lights will peak south of Greenland, particularly in Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Washington, Wisconsin, Maine, Vermont and the Midwest.

The “shocking sight” as the National Science Foundation puts it, this is because of an incredible burst of solar particles. At this time of year, charged particles coming from the sun shoot into the Earth’s atmosphere. When solar flares and coronal mass ejections occur, the space weather warms our planet’s upper atmosphere, eventually leading to the appearance of the aurora borealis. The number of particles arriving is higher during the summer, when the sun is at its most active and the aurora appear particularly bright and colorful.

Scientists use large arrays of monitoring equipment to record the aurora. Members of the partnership between Cornell University, NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, part of the Arctic Environmental Research Center, along with other observatories, are expected to gather data and collect information that will help scientists better predict when more aurora will appear.

Live aurora can be viewed online using the video facility in the Alfred P. Sloan Digital Planetarium at the Smithsonian Institution. Open daily through Aug. 13, noon-5 p.m. General admission is $10 for adults, $7 for kids under 12, students (ages 7-18) $4 and free for kids 6 and under. More information can be found here.

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