Seeing the northern lights--that dazzling light display Mother Nature puts on in the winter over the Arctic region--is one of those things many of us include on our so-called bucket list.
The good news: You might not have to travel far to see it.
The bad news: You might not have to travel far to see it.
Wired Science reports that space physicist Peter Riley of Predictive Science in San Diego has determined that in the next 10 years, there is a 12 percent chance there could be a display of the northern lights that would reach from the sidewalks of Manhattan to the pristine beaches of the Caribbean.
That is not a good thing. Caused by flares in the sun, an aurora borealis that reached this far south would also zap power grids, communication networks and crucial satellites. So while you would get to see amazing nighttime eye candy, you could also lose your power--for a long time.
If this were to occur in the next decade, it would cause damage in the trillions of dollars and a recovery that could take years. Even Riley, the man who came to these startling conclusions, is alarmed by his own research. "Even if it's off by a factor of two, that's a much larger number than I thought," he admitted to Wired Science.
Riley came to his conclusions by analyzing the history of solar flares and then correlating the relationship between the size of the flares and their occurrences. Solar flare activity is not constant. There can be very quiet periods and very active periods. It is during the highly active periods that the sun has the potential to unleash waves of charged particles into space and toward Earth, notes Wired Science. And we're heading into an active period.
This is not without precedent. The last time a widespread aurora borealis dipped so far south was on September 1, 1859. Called the "Carrington Event," it is the largest aurora borealis in history and even damaged the telecommunications infrastructure of the day, setting telegraph stations on fire.
The New York Times described the 1859 event like this: "On Sunday night the heavens were arrayed in a drapery more gorgeous than they have been for years. ...Such was the aurora, as thousands witnessed it from housetops and from pavements. Many imagined they heard rushing sounds as if Aeolus [a mythological Greek god] had let loose winds."
The study findings were published in the journal Space Weather.
--From the Editors at Netscape