WASHINGTON (WWJ/AP) – Northerners thawing out from the bitter freeze may get rewarded with shimmering Northern Lights the next couple days — and that includes Southeast Michiganders.

Federal space weather forecaster Joe Kunches said the sun shot out a strong solar flare late Tuesday, which should arrive at Earth early Thursday.

It should shake up Earth’s magnetic field and expand the aurora borealis south, possibly as far south as Colorado and central Illinois. Spaceweather.com is reporting that northern lights may be seen in Lower Michigan, and even down past the southern border.

The farther north you are in Michigan, the greater the chance you will have of seeing an impressive light show — but a cloudy sky could pose a problem. [Check the forecast].

The University of Alaska’s Geophysical Institute predicts much of Canada and the northern fringes of the U.S. should see the northern lights. Chicago, Boston, Cleveland, Seattle and Des Moines might see the shimmering colors low on the horizon.

The solar storm is already diverting airline flights around the poles and may disrupt GPS devices Thursday.

Kunches said best viewing would probably be Thursday evening, weather permitting.

So, what the heck is it?

An aurora borealis (aurora australis in the Southern Hemisphere) is precipitated by explosions on the surface of the sun, sometimes starting as solar flares, explained Robert Nemiroff, an astrophysicist at Michigan Technological University.

These flares release a burst of charged particles, or plasma, into the solar system. When they come our way, they whack into the Earth’s magnetosphere, which is made up of its own stream of charged particles. That collision causes particles to break free of the magnetosphere and cascade toward the Earth’s magnetic field lines. (More on the science behind the Northern Lights, here).

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