Northern Lights were pictured Thursday morning across the upper US regions after a solar flare caused a powerful geomagnetic storm.
The famous shimmering lights, also known as the Aurora Borealis, have been photographed in states such as North and South Dakota, Montana and Washington.
Space weather experts earlier this week had predicted increased auroral activity after solar flares and accompanying coronal mass ejections (CMEs) – huge clouds of plasma – were ejected from the Sun towards our planet.
The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) on Tuesday issued a G3 warning for a “strong” geomagnetic storm. G3 is in the middle of the G scale, which describes the strength of geomagnetic storms from 1 to 5, with 5 being extreme.
On Tuesday, the SWPC noted that the storm could potentially cause irregularities in power system voltages, increase atmospheric drag on low-Earth orbiting satellites and cause some GPS navigation problems — although it said the electronics of G3 geomagnetic planes would also be affected Storms “generally remain small.”
As of Thursday morning around 6:45 a.m. ET, it was unclear if any electrical problems had occurred. SWPC data showed the storm had peaked at G1 by that time.
Still, this was strong enough to provide some spectacular sights for sky watchers.
The following photos were taken and shared with Montana resident Kylan Jensen news week in the early hours of Thursday morning.
“I would say I probably see them a few times a year,” said Jensen, who stayed up to watch the lights Thursday morning after hearing about them from a local weather station.
“They were beautiful. I’ve never seen them so high in the sky! You usually see them on the horizon, but these went a lot further than I expected!
Jensen first noticed the lights around 9:50 p.m. MST Wednesday and said they still came on at 4 a.m. the next morning, though not as brightly.
The following image was posted to Twitter by Atmospheric and Environmental Science researcher Lexy Elizalde, taken in South Dakota.
“I literally can’t believe this happened tonight,” Elizalde tweeted. “Eight meteorology students, three mechanical engineering students, two journalists and a meteorologist all watching the northern lights together. That went much better than expected. So, so happy.”
More examples can be seen below.
Although auroras are best seen at night, they are caused by the sun. The reason for their occurrence lies in the interaction between solar particles and gases in the Earth’s atmosphere.
When solar particles are directed towards the earth, some of them are directed towards the north and south poles of the earth by our planet’s magnetic field. The particles concentrated in these areas excite the atmospheric gases, causing the beautiful colors associated with the auroras.
Because geomagnetic storms are caused by disturbances in the Earth’s magnetic field and clouds of solar particles, auroras occur closer to the equator than would normally be the case. If an extreme geomagnetic storm were to occur, Northern Lights could potentially be seen in US states as low as Florida and Texas.