Steamboat Springs A curtain of pink, green and purple lights hanging in the sky may be visible tonight or Saturday night because of an explosion on the sun that will lead to the phenomenon called the Northern Lights.
Because of a large explosion of gases on the sun Thursday morning, the dancing lights may be visible to Coloradans if the weather clears this weekend. And if large explosions persist, Sunday night may reveal another light bulb in the sky bright enough to read a book by.
Also known as Aurora Borealis, the Northern Lights can be seen most clearly between midnight and 1 a.m. Because the last major explosions on the sun were seen in 1991, the Earth is currently at its peak in the 11-year cycle of activity.
However, Jimmy Westlake, astronomy professor at Colorado Mountain College's Alpine Campus, said there is only a 25 percent chance people in Colorado will see the display of lights because of our latitudinal position and the current weather conditions.
"It's like predicting the weather. The conditions may be right for rain, but it may not be raining where you are," Westlake said of Colorado's 40-degree north latitude position. "If (the explosions) are big enough, sometimes you can see them as far south
Westlake said the best position to see the Northern Lights is between 60- and 70- degrees north latitude, around Alaska or Northern Canada.
The cyclical phenomenon is a result of intense activity on the sun. Every 11 years, large magnetic storms occur on the sun harboring enough energy to spew billions of tons of hot charged gases toward the Earth.
Some sun spots, like those in 1991, are 13 times bigger than the Earth's surface and generate enough energy to run the Earth for more than a million years.
"It takes one to three days for that material to cross the 93 million miles between the Earth and the sun," Westlake said of the reason Coloradans may see the lights this weekend.