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Hopes dwindle for Northern Lights over parts of the US tonight

Skywatchers had planned to ooh and aah at the Aurora Borealis, aka "space weather," but the forecast isn't looking good anymore.

Gael Fashingbauer Cooper
CNET freelancer Gael Fashingbauer Cooper, a journalist and pop-culture junkie, is co-author of "Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops? The Lost Toys, Tastes and Trends of the '70s and '80s," as well as "The Totally Sweet '90s." If Marathon candy bars ever come back, she'll be first in line.
Gael Fashingbauer Cooper
2 min read

The Northern Lights, seen here from Iceland, are a favorite sight for many.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Americans who can't normally view the spectacular light show known as the Northern Lights were hoping to get a rare chance to see them this week. The Space Weather Prediction Center had said the dazzling display, known as the Aurora Borealis, might be visible from unexpected parts of the nation on Thursday night, but the forecast has now been downgraded.

Such varied regions as New England, the Pacific Northwest, and even as far south as Nebraska, central Illinois and the very tip of Missouri had dreamed of catching sight of the lights.  

The National Weather Service (NWS) office in Medford, Oregon shared the news on Thursday. "Sorry folks, the Aurora will not be visible in southern Oregon (or northern CA) tonight," the NWS tweeted. "The 'solar storm' did not hit with the full potential. It's probably better this way since clouds would be obscuring the skies anyway."

NWS Binghampton in New York also tweeted an updated forecast, saying "conditions no longer look favorable for viewing tonight."

While this is disappointing news, you can still think ahead to when the lights might be visible at another time.

" Aurora can often be observed somewhere on Earth from just after sunset or just before sunrise," the Space Weather Prediction Center reports, "The aurora is not visible during daylight hours. The aurora does not need to be directly overhead but can be observed from as much as a 1,000 km (620 miles) away when the aurora is bright and if conditions are right."

The sky in your area needs to be clear and cloudless for the Northern Lights to be seen. You'll want to get away from the light pollution of major cities, so head for a more undeveloped area.

"As [meteorologist Sara Housseal] mentions, you'll want to get away from city lights, be able to see low down to the horizon towards the north, and of course, good weather," Space Weather Watch noted in a tweet. "Clear skies everyone!"

The aurora is caused by electrons colliding with the upper reaches of Earth's atmosphere and releasing their energy in the form of light. At polar latitudes, the aurora can be seen during more than half of the nights of a given year.

"It is the only way for most people to actually experience space weather," the center notes. Residents in some regions of Alaska may still have a shot at catching some lights. It may not happen this week for other parts of the US, but there's always hope for the future.