Astro Bob: Aurora alert for March 27 and a planet-watch reminder

A recent solar flare means a chance for a minor G1 storm Sunday night. Monday, don't miss the dawn gathering of the thin lunar crescent, Venus, Mars and Saturn.

Sunspot March 27
I took this photo of the sun at 11 a.m. CDT on Sunday, March 27, with a small refracting telescope. Sunspot groups are labeled. Although it appears small, Region 2974 released a flare that's expected to spark a minor (G1) storm this afternoon and evening. A new, flare-producing spot is just emerging at the sun's southeastern edge. The largest spot in Region 2976 is visible with the naked eye through a safe solar filter.
Contributed / Bob King
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DULUTH — Watching the sun has been a lot of fun lately. It wasn't that long ago that days and even weeks would go by without seeing a spot. Now they're common. That's because we're past the minimum of the 11-year solar cycle and approaching maximum, predicted for July 2025.

The NASA / ESA Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) captured this dramatic image of a CME leaving the sun on Sept. 30, 2015. Billions of tons of solar material — mostly electrons and protons — are released into space where they interact with Earth's magnetic field and those of other planets to create the aurora.
Contributed / NASA, ESA, SOHO

Sunspots are seats of strong magnetic energy on the sun's surface, so the more prolific they become, the great chance for solar flares. Flares can blast streams of high-speed particles in the Earth's direction. Under the right conditions, those particles can link into our planet's magnetic field and come streaming into the upper atmosphere to spark the aurora borealis.

DSCOVR spacecraft space weather Discover NASA.jpg
NASA's DSCOVR satellite is "parked" in space at the relatively stable L1 Lagrange Point about one million ahead of the Earth toward the sun. From this location it continually samples the solar wind before it arrives at our planet, providing an early warning of potential geomagnetic storms.
Contributed / NASA

On Friday, March 25, a flare in group 2974 produced a CME or coronal mass ejection, basically a big gob of plasma (electrons and protons) from the sun's corona stamped with the solar magnetic field. It will arrive this afternoon and is expected to connect with our planet's field and set off a minor geomagnetic storm. In fact, the storm may already be underway as of 12:30 p.m. CDT. NASA's DSCOVR satellite , positioned about a million miles (1.5 million km) forward of Earth, has shown an uptick in the speed of the solar wind along with other fluctuations over the past few hours.

If the blast continues, observers in the northern U.S. and Canada may get a see a greenish arc and perhaps a few rays, too. The best time to look will be as soon as it gets dark. No moon will compromise the view. You can check the latest forecast here and a visible representation of the extent of the aurora here . I'll also have an update on Facebook on Sunday evening.

Find a place where you can see as close down to the horizon as possible to catch a wonderful celestial reunion of three planets and the moon on Monday, March 28, 2022, at mid-dawn.
Contributed / Stellarium

Don't forget that Monday, March 28, Venus, Saturn and Mars will gather with the old crescent moon low in the southeastern sky at dawn. To see them best, find a place with a view as close to the horizon as possible in that direction. Venus is always easy to spot, but bring binoculars just in case you need a little help finding the fainter planets in the growing light. You can start watching about an hour before local sunrise .


Clear skies!

Read more from Astro Bob
On Aug. 14, Saturn and the Earth will be shy of a billion miles apart — as close as they get in 2022.

"Astro" Bob King is a freelance writer for the Duluth News Tribune.

"Astro" Bob King is a freelance writer and retired photographer for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at
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