Science and Tech


The northern lights in 2024 are set to be the best in 20 years

Experts say aurora borealis may also appear in areas where it's not normally visible, all thanks to what is called the "solar maximum."
The northern lights illuminate the night sky
Posted at 2:33 PM, Jan 24, 2024

If you’ve never had a chance to see the northern lights in person, 2024 is shaping up to be a good year to finally witness the phenomenon.

Experts say 2024 will bring not only the best northern lights in more than 20 years, but they may also appear in areas where they’re not normally visible.

It’s all thanks to what is called the “solar maximum,” when the sun is reaching its peak of a roughly 11-year cycle, which NASA says began again in December 2019. The sun’s activity has been ramping up since then, with an expected peak in July 2025.

The northern lights, also known as the aurora borealis, happen in regions around the earth’s magnetic pole. They appear when electrons from solar flares interact with atoms and molecules in the Earth’s atmosphere. That in turn creates lights and multiple colors in the sky.


Don Hampton, research associate professor at the Geophysical Institute of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, told National Geographic that the region where they’re visible shifts and fluctuates depending on the strength of solar wind, or charged particles from the sun’s atmosphere.

“When there’s more energy, [the auroral zone] gets thicker and expands further south,” Hampton said. “I don’t think it is too wild a prediction to say that people in the Midwest and maybe even lower Midwest will have a good chance to see aurora once or twice during this solar cycle, but there are no guarantees.”

While it’s impossible to predict exactly where the northern lights will be the most visible throughout the year, scientists can typically predict it a bit a few days before it happens. NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center also provides 30- to 90-minute aurora forecasts.

This story originally appeared on Simplemost.