Some Californians saw the Northern Lights on Thursday
Anthony Edwards, a senior at the University of Washington, was returning to Seattle after a spring break road trip through the San Francisco Bay Area when a friend mentioned he might be able to see the Northern Lights from as far south as California Thursday night.
From his hotel in Yreka – not far from the Oregon border – Edwards drove east for a few minutes to try to escape any artificial light that might interfere with his view of the phenomenon, scientifically known as Aurora borealis.
Before he even made it a few minutes from the small county town of Siskiyou, he said he began to notice a green tint on the horizon.
When he stopped a little further, he said the green light was definitely noticeable and his camera was able to pick up some of the purple.
“I didn’t expect it yesterday,” said Edwards, who describes himself as a weather enthusiast, studying meteorology and journalism at university. “Seeing him for the first time so far south is crazy. … It was great.”
Space weather the experts had predicted that a ‘severe geomagnetic storm’ on Thursday evening could make the Northern Lights – usually visible only in regions near the North Pole – visible over a much larger geographic area, as far south as northern California and even north from Alabama.
“We really haven’t had anything like this in several years,” said Bill Murtagh, program coordinator for the Space Weather Prediction Center in Boulder, Colorado, which is part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “The aurora was indeed visible in mid-latitude states.”
Although he called the appearance of the Northern Lights in the south “fairly rare,” it’s not unheard of. The most recent such exhibition was in 2017, he said.
Photos from Thursday’s spectacular screening were shared on social media, from idaho For Wisconsin, and even further south in Colorado And Virginia. Highly sensitive cameras can often capture the display even farther south when it cannot be seen with the naked eye, said Murtagh, who noted that skies must be clear to see the phenomenon.
As a Seattle native, Edwards said there have been several times when the Northern Lights have been visible in his area, but it has always been too cloudy for him to catch them.
The aurora borealis is the result of electrons from the sun colliding with gases in the upper parts of Earth’s atmosphere, typically following the magnetic field toward the North Pole, according to the Space Weather Prediction Center.
But when space storms occur – as they did on Thursday – the spectacular lights can stretch farther towards the equator, the center said.
This week there were a few flares on the sun, which created a geomagnetic storm, disrupting the Earth’s magnetic field – and in turn triggered the display of the Northern Lights, according to Murtagh and his team. Over the next two to three years, as the sun enters a period of its greatest activity in its 11-year cycle, he said he expects additional flares as well as sunspots. solar, which will likely cause more frequent geomagnetic storms.
“As we approach the [solar] maximum, we are going to see a lot more,” Murtagh said. “We could have more magnetic storms over the next 12 months.”
He said his team was also monitoring “increasing solar winds” – part of an unrelated but similar magnetic disturbance – which could make the aurora borealis visible again in unusually southerly locations on Friday and Saturday, but not as far as California.
“The opportunity to view Aurora is not over,” he said. “The most spectacular part is over, but we could see Aurora in the more northern part [areas] during the weekend.”
He said the show could be seen Friday and over the weekend in more northern states, like Wisconsin or Idaho.
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