Northern lights could be seen in more than a dozen states this month
The aurora borealis, also known as the northern lights, could be visible in more than a dozen states next week. The stunning display of light from outer space is expected to be visible in states from Alaska to Maryland, weather permitting, between July 12 and 13.
The aurora borealis produces neon green waves in the night sky when electrons from space collide with atoms and molecules of the upper atmosphere of Earth, according to NASA. The result is similar to when electrons collide with neon gas to create bright lightbulbs.
According to the University of Alaska's Geophysical Institute, activity will be high on July 13 with visibility forecast in Montana, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, Indiana, Vermont and Maryland. The lights will also be visible in Canadian cities such as Vancouver and Toronto.
Aurora activity will also be high on July 12 and the display is forecast to be visible in Alaska, Washington, Iowa, Illinois, Ohio and Massachusetts, as well as in Canadian cities like Edmonton and Winnipeg.
The auroras come from solar wind from the sun. Even when these winds are calm, there are auroras at some place on Earth, but they may be obstructed by clouds or sunlight, according to the institute.
The phenomenon is usually visible in Alaska, Canada, and Scandinavian countries like Greenland and Iceland during average activity. Late February to early April is usually the best time to view auroras in Alaska.
When activity increases, more U.S. states like North Dakota and Michigan have the chance to see the lights. The lights are even visible in the Southern Hemisphere in places such as New Zealand when activity is fairly strong.
The best time to see the lights is when the sky is clear and dark, according to the institute. They are more visible closest to the equinox, or the longest days of sunlight in the year occurring in the spring and fall. Auroras usually occur every 27 days, and they come from solar storms.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has an animated forecast of the lights' movement and says the best time to see them is within an hour or two of midnight, usually between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. local time.
NASA's Parker Solar Probe, which is on a mission to the sun, recently gathered information on the solar storms that create the aurora borealis. Solar winds travel 93 million miles to Earth's atmosphere, where the bursts evolve into a "homogeneous, turbulent flow of roiling magnetic fields intertwined with charged particles that interact with Earth's own magnetic field and dump electrical energy into the upper atmosphere."
This creates the stunning aurora in the sky – but the lights can also wreak havoc on communications systems. In 1859, the Carrington Event – a strong solar eruption that made the auroras extremely bright and long-lasting – knocked out telegraph and electrical systems, according to the University of Chicago.
The sun's creation of powerful solar winds is on an 11-year cycle and the next peak in the activity is expected around 2025. Auroras will likely be easier to see at lower latitudes during this time, according to the institute.
Caitlin O'Kane is a digital content producer covering trending stories for CBS News and its good news brand, The Uplift.