Why are the northern lights moving south?

Over the past several months we have received multiple reports of the northern lights being spotted over western North Carolina. This is a phenomenon that is rare for areas this far south, but could become something we see more and more over the next few months!

The reason for that is an impending solar maximum.

During the solar cycle, which is roughly 11 years according to NOAA, the sun emits energy that reached peaks and minimums in intensity. Right now, that peak is expected toward mid-2024 but could be as late as 2025.

Northern Lights visible near Asheville, NC on March 23, 2023.
Northern Lights visible near Asheville, NC on March 23, 2023.(Evan Fisher)

This means that the sun’s magnetic field will be the strongest in a decade. Because of this, we will see more intense solar flares, which is a mass ejection of electromagnetic radiation from the sun. This will cause more Aurora sightings, and will also help the atmospheric phenomenon to dip farther south because of the intensity of the solar wind.

According to NOAA, there is nothing to worry about for the average person with these geomagnetic storms.

Will we see the Aurora Borealis in the mountains again? Probably! Over the next year, we will likely get more opportunities to see the brilliant colors in the night sky.

Will it dip into the Upstate? That is still a big question mark. It would be unlikely, but not impossible.

We’ll continue to bring you updates when NOAA detects the potential for solar flares and when there could be opportunities for viewing.