Look up tonight: the northern lights could be visible in Quebec

Look up tonight: the northern lights could be visible in Quebec
Look up tonight: the northern lights could be visible in Quebec

With a little luck, many Quebecers could see the Northern Lights during the night from Friday to Saturday, since a major solar storm will occur. Here’s what you need to know.

• Read also: Earth hit by a solar storm: what does that mean, exactly?

• Read also: Prepare for a particularly hot summer in Quebec

Space Weather Canada has issued a major geomagnetic storm watch, which will last from Friday afternoon until 7 p.m. the next day.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) also believes that this solar storm could be “unusual and potentially historic” due to its intensity never seen in nearly 20 years.

This phenomenon increases the chances of observing the Northern Lights across Canada, a spectacle usually reserved for residents of the Far North.

These storms occur when there is solar activity that causes bits of the Sun – called coronal mass ejections – to be expelled into space and may encounter Earth.

The coronal mass bounces off Earth’s magnetic field, and the remaining charged particles come into contact with gases in the planet’s upper atmosphere, causing the northern lights.

You should know that intense solar storms can also disrupt electricity and satellite networks. This means there may be power, GPS and internet outages. In 1989, a major geomagnetic storm deprived Quebec of electricity for nine hours.

“Enjoy thesummer” to see auroras

The peak of the 11-year cycle of solar activity is approaching and should be reached by the end of the year, explained to 24 hours Olivier Hernandez, astrophysicist at the Montreal Planetarium, during the last major solar storm.

Just before and after peaking is where the most solar storms occur, increasing the chances of the Northern Lights forming.

“Enjoy the summer that is coming, even if the nights are shorter. Due to increasing solar activity, lie down in the grass or sand, look up to the sky and wait. We have a good chance of seeing [des aurores boréales], especially a little further in the North. It allows you to have a very good vacation,” recommends Olivier Hernandez.

The Kp index

To see auroras at our latitude, the geomagnetic activity, measured by the Kp index ranging from 0 to 9, must be particularly intense. During the night from Friday to Saturday, this index will be 7 between 11 p.m. and 2 a.m. and will reach 8 between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m.

To really hope to see auroras in the Montreal and Ottawa regions, the Kp index must reach 6 or 7. But be careful: it is better to move away from densely populated centers, because light pollution reduces the level of visibility dawns.




An aurora borealis photographed in Nunavut. This phenomenon is observed more in the Far North, located closer to the magnetic North Pole.

The Bz index

We must also take into account the Bz index, or “the coordinates of the magnetic field,” to determine our chances of seeing the Northern Lights. It must be oriented towards the South so that a greater number of Quebecers can witness this spectacle in the sky, indicates Mr. Hernandez.

Friday afternoon, the magnetic field was oriented towards the South. However, he could change direction by Saturday.

“A very intense aurora borealis can bring down [l’anneau] very south in latitude, but if the Bz index is not directed in the right direction, the ring will rise and we will not see that many auroras at our latitude,” underlines the astrophysicist.

The moon

Other factors can play spoilsport, including the full Moon, “which acts like a beacon in the night,” whose luminosity surpasses that of the northern lights, explains Olivier Hernandez, astrophysicist at the Montreal Planetarium.

Full Moon evenings are “the worst time to have solar activity.”

Fortunately, only a crescent Moon will be visible tonight, which means that the star will not be particularly bright.

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