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Aurora Borealis may be visible in northern Illinois early Thursday morning

A series of solar storms is heading toward Earth, perhaps into Saturday

ST. LOUIS — The sun has been active this week sending several solar storms toward Earth. There's a slight chance the far northern horizon in Missouri and northern Illinois may take on a green color as particles from the solar storms interact with the upper atmosphere to form the northern lights, or Aurora Borealis

Earlier this week, more than one Coronal Mass Ejection, or CME, occurred on the sun. This is when the sun burps out a giant bubble of plasma and electrified gas that travels through space at high speed.

While fairly common near the North or South Pole, farther south, the chances of seeing the northern lights or Aurora Borealis tend to be limited to stronger solar storms. The night sky is expected to be mostly clear around the St. Louis region overnight, but it's doubtful this solar storm will be strong enough to create a display of the northern lights locally.

Credit: NOAA/NWS

NOAA's Space Weather Center monitors the sun and the impacts of solar storms on Earth. The current thought is a G3 strong geomagnetic storm is possible for overnight Wednesday into early Thursday. 

In cities farther north, like Minneapolis and Seattle, the light show may be higher in the sky. Farther south, if visible, it will be much closer to the northern horizon. A G3 storm is usually not strong enough for St. Louisans to see the northern lights. People living from northern Illinois and Indiana west to northern Iowa and Nebraska may have a better shot at seeing the green glow on the horizon in the night sky.

When a solar storm comes toward Earth, some of the energy and small particles can travel down the magnetic field lines at the north and south poles into Earth’s atmosphere. It's these particles that interact with gases in our atmosphere resulting in quite the light show in the night sky. Oxygen gives off green and red light. Nitrogen glows blue and purple.

Credit: NASA

That chance exists as a result of this week's multiple CMEs from the Sun. NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center says the highest impact from the Sun's energy will arrive sometime tonight into early Thursday with additional surges possible into Saturday.

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