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Huge Sunspot / CME's May Bring Northern Lights to Washington, Oregon Coastlines

Published 5/09/24 at 6:25 a.m.
By Andre' Hagestedt, Oregon Coast Beach Connection


(Oregon Coast) - Get your camera gear ready: clear skies and a really, really large sunspot out in space have created a decent recipe for spotting the Aurora Borealis in Oregon and Washington, which includes the coastlines. (Above: Oregon Coast Beach Connection snagged this shot of the Aurora Borealis years ago in the Coast Range).

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National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) has a geomagnetic storm watch in effect for Friday and Saturday (May 10 and 11), which just had the storm upgraded from a G2 to a G3 level. This eruption of solar material should produce a good set of northern lights in higher latitudes, but it may show as far south as Oregon, the SWPC said.

If you go looking, chances are slim you'll see it with the naked eye this far south. Most of the time, it's only captured on higher grade camera equipment that can take longer exposures. With clear skies over the weekend for the Oregon coast and Washington coast – as well as most inland areas – you'll want to point your lenses to the north for a bit.

Plan to go check things out after midnight on Friday and Saturday.

It's possible the geo-storm will create northern lights over “many of the northern states and some of the lower Midwest to Oregon,” the center said.

There is a massive sunspot on the sun right now that is 15 times the size of the Earth, and it recently fired off a set of CME's (coronal mass ejections) that will be combining into one and hit the planet over the weekend.


Taken by Martin Wise on May 8, 2024 @ Trenton, Florida

According to Spaceweather.com, it's called AR3664, and if you're looking at it with ordinary eclipse glasses you can actually see it right now. (Make sure you do NOT look at the sun without proper eye protection).

“Multiple CMEs erupted associated with flare activity from Region 3664 on 07-08 May,” the center said. “These CMEs are expected to merge together with potential arrival expected late on 10 May to early on 11 May (UTC dates).”


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CMEs are eruptions of solar material, the center said. Watches at this level are infrequent but not exactly unusual.

Also visible for awhile is the International Space Station. Space Station Will Put On A Show in May Above Oregon, Washington, Coastlines

AR3664 is being likened to the Carrington's sunspot in 1859 (the year Oregon became a state), which “emitted a series of intense solar flares and CMEs. The resulting geomagnetic storms set fire to telegraph offices and sparked auroras from Cuba to Hawaii,” said Spaceweather.com.

This geomagnetic storm is not expected to result in anything like that. The CME hurled at Earth on May 8 is tiny compared to the Carrington event.

Spaceweather.com included a sketch done by the famous Carrington back then using white paper with the sun projected onto it.

Also see When the Green Flash and Oregon Coast Whale Research Meet: Science Explanation

Still, according to the site, storms like those normally occur every 40 or 60 years, so Earth is reportedly long overdue. That one was the kind of event that many worry would fry out the internet and a host of other electrical systems in parts of the world.

Areas like the Oregon and Washington coast will be perfect for snapping photos as they're generally untouched by human lighting. Head to higher points to get a good view of the northern skies, such as near Cape Arago (Coos Bay area), Cape Blanco (Port Orford), the northern side of Neahkahnie Mountain near Manzanita, the high pullout just south of Yachats, or Anderson's Viewpoint near Oceanside.

You may, however, have to contend with winds.

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Andre' GW Hagestedt is editor, owner and primary photographer / videographer of Oregon Coast Beach Connection, an online publication that sees over 1 million pageviews per month. He is also author of several books about the coast.

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