The aurora borealis, more commonly referred to as the northern lights, are so iconic they draw people from around the world to northern parts of the globe to catch a glimpse of the glowing phenomenon.
Typically, the glowing lights are rarely visible in California, but 2024 predictions show that there could be increased solar activity, meaning as the auroras become more intense, the reach of their visibility could move farther south.
The northern lights are measured by the Kp-index ranging from 0 to 9, with 0 representing a dim, far north aurora that is not very active.
In early December, there were predictions that people in northern California might see a faint glow of the lights on the horizon, according to astronomer Travis Rector, as reported by the San Francisco Chronicle. It was recorded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that the Northern Lights may have been visible as far south as Pennsylvania, Iowa, and Oregon on December 1.
This is promising as, according to the NOAA’s forecast, the northern lights have not yet peaked in activity.
Predictions for 2024
The NOAA’s forecast predicts a faster and stronger peak of solar activity than they had previously anticipated. The new prediction shows solar activity peaking between January and October 2024. We are currently in Solar Cycle 25, with Solar Cycle 24 being the weakest in 100 years; the initial predictions for this cycle were that it would be similarly weak. While the updated prediction is larger than its predecessor, it’s still below average.
A solar cycle lasts 11 years, and cycle 25 began in 2019. In fact, the last several solar cycles have seen a decrease in solar activity, and cycle 25 was predicted to break that pattern even in initial early predictions, according to the NOAA: “We predict the decline in solar cycle amplitude, seen from cycles 21 through 24, has come to an end,” said Lisa Upton, Ph.D., a solar physicist with Space Systems Research Corp. and a panel co-chair for the prediction panel in 2019.
While the updated predictions are exciting news for astronomy enthusiasts, particularly those hoping increased activity will cause visibility farther south, the projections can always be subject to change.
While California is definitely not the ideal place to view the northern lights, even the possibility that they could be visible this far south is exciting news.
If you want to stay updated on Aurora viewing predictions, check out the NOAA’s predicted view line which will show the southern extent of where you can see the lights.
What are the northern lights?
The northern lights are undeniably beautiful when they dance across the night sky. They are caused by electrically charged particles colliding with molecules and atoms of nitrogen and oxygen gas. The collision causes the particles to gain energy, which they then release in the form of the light we see across the sky.