(NewsNation) — Sunspot observations, a key predictor of the northern lights, have dramatically increased since 2022. Scientists say if the trend continues, the next 18 months will bring the strongest northern lights in decades.
The northern lights will be more viewable, more often from more places on Earth in the next 18 months than they have been in the past 20 years and are expected to be in the next decade, scientists told NBC News.
The Solar Cycle 25 Prediction Panel, an international scientific group sponsored by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, forecasted below-average sunspot activity for the coming year, with 110 to 115 sunspots at its peak.
However, updated models from multiple scientists show sunspots peaking as high as 235.
Solar activity is expected to steadily increase until fall 2024, when the likelihood of viewing the northern lights is highest, according to Mark Miesch, a research scientist at the University of Colorado Boulder and NOAA.
The aurora borealis, known as the northern lights, are a natural light display that occur in the Earth’s high latitude areas close to the North and South poles. It can most frequently be seen in Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iceland and Canada. The most recent northern lights were seen as far south as Minnesota and Wisconsin.
“When there’s a big disturbance in the magnetic field, then you’re more likely to see aurora at lower latitudes,” Miesch said, adding it will almost double the likelihood of northern lights in the coming days.
The phenomenon is caused by a stream of charged particles released from the sun colliding with the magnetosphere, the area that the Earth’s magnetic field impacts. The collision causes a release of energy in the form of light particles that create the stunning light displays sky watchers chase after.