Richard Walker, astronomer, describes a coronal mass ejection as a huge blob of solar particles shot off the surface of the sun. Essentially it's a big chunk of the sun blasted into space. He says it happens all the time, but this time it is directed toward Earth.
When the solar particles hit the very upper part of our atmosphere and our magnetic field, it produces northern lights. Typically the northern lights are brightest in the darkest part of night, midnight to 3 a.m. But Walker admits it is basically unpredictable as to when exactly the best northern lights would occur during any solar storm.
NASA ranks the chance of northern lights in Michigan as a four on a scale from one to 10. Four is the level where NASA says northern lights will be active. They believe that northern lights could be seen Tuesday night very low on the horizon as far south as Lansing.
The farther north you go, the greater your chance of seeing northern lights Tuesday night. The northern part of Lake Superior is the only place where northern lights are likely Tuesday night.
But at least we have to be encouraged that skies will be clear, and it's worth a look tonight.
Wednesday NASA drops the rating to a three, so tonight might be our night to see the northern lights.
Walker tells us to get out in a dark area and look straight north. He also says if you are going to try to photograph them, put your digital camera on a night setting with no flash and a 30 second exposure. You will also need a tripod or some way to hold the camera completely steady.