The northern lights seen May 10 from Waugh Road in Farmington. Contributed photo by Steve Muise

The northern lights are expected to return to Maine’s night skies this weekend, offering a potential viewing opportunity for those who missed their appearance earlier this month.

Veteran stargazers say it’s part of a good year for catching the aurora borealis, a result of an increase in solar activity.

Another solar storm is forecasted to wash across much of Canada and the northern U.S. Friday night, potentially bringing a brightly colored night sky with it, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The best time to catch a glimpse of the aurora will be after sunset and before moonrise between 9 p.m. Friday and 1 a.m. Saturday, according to citizen astronomer Elizabeth Dickerson, who has been monitoring the aurora borealis in Maine for nearly 30 years.

“I think we’ve got a pretty good shot at seeing it as long as the clouds don’t roll in,” she said. “It’s really just a matter of whether that storm is aiming at us, how strong it is and how far south the solar wind is blowing.”

Partly cloudy skies on Friday afternoon are expected to melt away for a clear view of the night sky throughout much of Kennebec and Somerset counties, according to National Weather Service forecaster Jon Palmer.


“It’ll be about 50/50 clouds and sun between noon and 8 or 9 p.m., and by the evening hours the clouds start filtering out and it becomes mostly clear skies,” Palmer said Friday.

Forecasted aurora borealis intensity for the night of May 31. The northern lights will be more intense in the red regions, and the small red line marks the southernmost point they will be visible. Illustration courtesy of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

This weekend’s solar storm is forecasted to be weaker than the one earlier this month, according to NOAA data.

The intensity of solar storms is rated on the “Kp index,” which ranges from 0 to 9. Storms rated zero are dimmer and farther north, while level-nine storms create bright aurora that can reach into the contiguous U.S.

The May 10 solar storm reached level 9. Dickerson expects Friday’s aurora to be a 5 or 6.

Although some might not be able to see the aurora with the naked eye due to the storm’s low intensity, Dickerson said most cellphones will still be able to photograph the aurora.

“With the help of like just an iPhone, you can set it on dark mode and you can get like a 10-second exposure,” Dickerson said. “With that long exposure and without the presence of light pollution, you can actually see the aurora even if your eyes can’t.”


Central and northern Maine will be the best spots to see this weekend’s aurora. Areas further inland with lower populations and less light pollution will likely provide the clearest skies, according to John Reichert, another longtime New England citizen astronomer.

“To really see a (solar) storm in Maine, you really need to be in central or northern Maine,” Reichert said. “And even then, we typically only tend to get some light pillars, some wavy white lights, stuff like that. Some people get disappointed because they see the photos from cameras that enhance what you can see what your eye.

APTOPIX Northern Lights Photo Gallery

The northern lights flare in the sky over a farmhouse May 10 in Brunswick. Robert Bukaty/Associated Press

“It’s important to remember that (the aurora) might not be as bright as it is in, say, Alaska, but it’s still something special that a lot of the world doesn’t get,” he added.

Viewing conditions will be ideal in rural areas farther from population centers like Waterville and Augusta, according to John Meader, founder and owner of Fairfield’s Northern Stars Planetarium and board member of Dark Skies Maine.

“You need to get away from town and you need to have a clear view north,” Meader said. “If I want a really good view, I might go up to Lake George Park in Skowhegan because there’s almost nothing north of there, so you get a nice view without much sky-glow.”

2024 is set to be a good year for aurora watchers due to increased solar activity, Meader said. A number of sunspots have produced the largest recorded solar flares in nearly a decade, giving many parts of the globe an unusual chance to view the dazzling northern lights.


The increased activity comes as the sun reaches “solar maximum” — or the peak of a roughly decade-long period dubbed the “solar cycle” in which the number and size of sunspots naturally ebbs and flows, in turn affecting solar wind, space weather and aurora borealis.

This year’s solar maximum is among the largest scientists have ever recorded, Reichert said.

“In short, the sun just becomes more active every 11 years and starts throwing out more solar flares,” he said. “This year is anticipated to be the best year that we’ll have until the next cycle, so at least until another 11 years.”

The northern lights over Scarborough earlier this month. Contributed photo by John Thurlow

Still, many Maine astronomers worry that residents won’t be able to see the aurora due to increasing light pollution.

The night sky is getting brighter by about 10% each year on average, studies have shown, making weaker solar storms like Friday’s more difficult to see.

“As Maine continues to grow and to develop, more human-made light comes into the picture, which makes it very difficult for us to see a lot of the night sky, not just auroras,” Dickerson said. “The level of light pollution over the years has just increased exponentially.”

Dickerson founded the Maine Aurora Borealis Watch group on Facebook, where she posts frequent forecasts and updates about incoming aurora activity.

Since Dickerson started posting her aurora forecasts to the group about two years ago, it has accumulated nearly 32,000 followers.

“I knew kind of what was going on out there in space and when an aurora was going to be happening, and I just wanted people to know about it,” Dickerson said. “I just didn’t expect how many people would want to know about it.”

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