Northern Lights in Saskatchewan
Photo by Blair Knox

New Year’s Eve Northern Lights show expected across Southern Canada

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After spending countless New Year’s Eves fighting your way through crowds and paying way too much to get into parties—only to end up losing your friends and toasting strangers at midnight—a quiet night in the country may sound like a pretty good way to ring in the new year. And as it turns out, this could be the best year to do it—a recent solar storm is expected to give Canadians across the country a view of the Northern Lights, which is good news for those planning to spend the evening outside the city’s bright lights.

While views of the Aurora Borealis are commonly reserved for those residing in high latitudes, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Aurora could light up skies as far south as 50 degrees geomagnetic latitude. That means that people as far south as the Canada-U.S. border could get the chance to see this stunning natural phenomenon.

“The effects are strongest around the magnetic poles of the Earth, with the magnetic North Pole being in northern Canada,” Piet Martens, a physicist at Georgia State University, told CBC News.

That’s why people who live in the far northern regions of the country, such as the territories, are regularly treated to such spectacular Northern Lights shows. But for the estimated 75 percent of Canadians living within 100 miles of the U.S. border, it takes geomagnetic storms caused by the sun for the Aurora Borealis to be visible at home.

According to Martens, this storm is caused by a coronal mass ejection (CME) that occurred this past Monday, December 28. To put it simply, a CME is an eruption of a magnetic cloud from the sun that takes off into space, sometimes—as in this case—hitting the Earth. They’re usually coupled with solar flares, and “the larger the flare, the larger and faster the CME,” Martens said.

So if you’re spending New Year’s Eve outside the city, or don’t have any plans yet, park yourself outdoors and away from artificial light. If you really want to make an evening of it, you could even try checking out one of the country’s 17 designated Dark Sky Preserves, which are parks or observatories free of light pollution.

With natural phenomena there may be no guarantee, but if you’re willing to take a chance, you could be starting 2016 like no other.

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