Traveling at 2.7 million miles an hour, a “solar tsunami” enveloped the planet on Tuesday.

As a result, scientists said, residents of northern regions around the globe were getting a chance to see the northern lights Tuesday night and tonight.

But as the night progressed in Maine on Tuesday, it became increasingly clear that stargazers were going to be disappointed. The National Weather Service in Gray said clouds covered most of Maine, making our chance of seeing the northern lights very slim.

Forecasters and scientists said tonight into Thursday morning may offer better viewing of the light show in the sky.

Paul Burke, an amateur astronomer who built an observatory at his home in Pittsfield, lived for nine years in Alaska, where the northern lights are a common sight.

“I still love to watch the northern lights,” said Burke who works as an air traffic controller at the Portland International Jetport. “They are fabulous. If they are out, I’m going to look.”

According to the Space Weather Prediction Center in Boulder, Colo., tonight may the better night of the two nights for viewing the northern lights.

Doug Biesecker, a physicist at the center, said Tuesday’s blast of charged particles from the sun primed the skies for a second storm, expected to arrive tonight into Thursday morning.

“We think the chances of viewing this event will go up later in the week when the second storm hits,” Biesecker said. “It could be a lot stronger.”

He estimated that the storms, which are 40 million miles wide, carried 10 million tons of charged solar particles. Humans are shielded from them by Earth’s magnetic field.

The storms can disrupt satellite communications, he said, though the center doesn’t expect them to do it this time.

Edward Gleason, who manages the Southworth Planetarium at the University of Southern Maine in Portland, wrote in his Daily Astronomer column, “They are calling it a solar tsunami, a beautifully poetic, but scarcely accurate description for an eruption along the sun’s visible surface.”

Gleason said the power of the solar storm could disrupt satellite communication systems, and produce beautiful northern lights.

He said it might be a faint white or could consist of vibrant colors, depending on the power of the solar storm.

Gleason said the best viewing time is between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. but northern lights could appear at any time.

That’s what happened several years ago during a stargazing party for some schoolchildren at the Astronomical Society of Northern New England’s Starfield Observatory in Kennebunk.

Joan Chamberlin, an amateur astronomer from the York County town of Parsonsfield, was at that party.

“I remember the aurora started just after sunset. It turned the entire sky red. It was amazing and it was spooky,” Chamberlin said.

Dan St. Jean, a forecaster for the National Weather Service, predicted showers this morning and possibly late tonight. He said there could be an opportunity for viewing the northern lights before midnight.

If you miss the display this week, Gleason from the Southworth Planetarium said more northern lights could appear, especially if solar activity increases.

 

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at: [email protected]