On the heels of an active weekend for northern lights across the globe, scientists are anticipating even more vibrant shows in the coming months.
On Sunday, the northern lights were on display across China, Europe, the United States and parts of Canada, including Alberta and the Maritimes.
“I’ve been photographing and chasing (the northern lights) for over 15 years and it never gets old,” said Matt Melnyk, who photographed the aurora borealis outside of Calgary on Nov. 5.
“I’m just like a little kid smiling every time I see it.”
CTV’s science and technology expert Dan Riskin said Sunday’s light show was a result of a geomagnetic storm, which happens when the sun discharges solar particles that end up hitting the Earth’s magnetic field.
“When you see the norther lights what you’re seeing is our planet destroying these rays that would otherwise destroy us,” Riskin said.
“It looks like this peaceful, nice thing, but it’s a little bit more like watching a battle in Star Wars.”
Bigger solar storms tend to produce a better light show for a broader viewing area, Riskin said.
Typically, people living further north will see a more vibrant spectacle. But on Sunday, some areas as far south as Colorado, Ukraine and northern Italy witnessed rare sightings.
“It was unusual (and) fairly rare, but not out of context,” said Paul Delaney, a physics and astronomy professor at York University.
Scientists say we’re approaching what’s called “solar maximum,” which is essentially the sun’s peak storm season in an 11-year cycle.
“Every 11 years, it gets really, really energetic with lots of sunspots and a lot of what we call radiation discharge,” Delaney said.
“And then sort of in between five and a half years, the sun goes very, very quiet and not much happens.”
Experts anticipate we will see more intense northern lights over the next year or so because of the solar maximum.
“The last 11 year peak was it was a little bit of a letdown. There wasn’t as much activity as people anticipated. But this year it’s looking like it’s ramping up,” Riskin said.
Both Riskin and Delaney said it is impossible to predict northern lights with 100 per cent certainty.
“Our understanding of the sun and the solar cycle, when all is said and done, is pretty rudimentary,” Delaney said.
“We can tell you why it does these things, we just can’t give you great insight into when it’s doing these things.”
You can track the auroral activity online here to determine your best chances of seeing the northern lights.