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Rare storm lights up skies with auroras across the US

The lights were visible at much lower latitudes than normal early Friday morning
NWS Gaylord

Story at a glance

  • A geomagnetic storm unexpectedly caused many throughout the country to see beautiful skies lit up in colors ranging from red to purple to green.

  • Auroral activity happens when particles from the sun collide with the Earth’s atmosphere and produce photons that emit light.

  • The last time a geomagnetic storm of this severity happened was in 2017.

A rare major geomagnetic storm lit up the skies with auroras across the country in states from North Carolina to Arizona early Friday morning. 

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) tweeted Friday that a “severe” geomagnetic storm, which is a disturbance in Earth’s magnetic field, began just after midnight, giving many Americans the opportunity to see multi-colored auroras if they were close enough and weather conditions permitted. 

Many observers took to Twitter to post photos of the lights display they were seeing. 

Storm chaser and nature photographer Peter Forister posted several pictures of the view from Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, in which wide parts of the sky appear red and yellow. 

Forister told The Washington Post that the storm lasted for more than 12 hours and was almost comparable to the northern lights he saw when he was in Iceland. 

Other people who posted photos and videos on Twitter showed images of skies lit up in red, yellow, green, pink and purple. 

Auroras form when electrons from the sun collide with the upper parts of the atmosphere, and they can only be seen during nighttime, according to NOAA. They usually can only be seen closer to the arctic region, but the area where they are visible expands for more major storms. 

The Post reported that the last time a level four geomagnetic storm occurred was in 2017. 

Bill Murtaugh, the program coordinator for NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center, told the Post that forecasters were not expecting a storm of that severity, and the conditions that led to it are rare. 

Alex Young, a solar physicist for NASA, told the outlet that auroras happen more frequently around the time of equinoxes, and can last for a few weeks leading up to or following them. 

Additional minor to moderate auroral activity might happen again this weekend in the northern part of the United States, according to the Post.

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