Aurora Borealis

The Northern Lights are usually seen in the northern hemisphere, but on May 10, 2024, they were visible in North Carolina.
The Northern Lights are usually seen in the northern hemisphere, but on May 10, 2024, they were visible in North Carolina.
Photo by Johny Goerend on Unsplash

Aurora Borealis, commonly known as the Northern Lights, is a natural display of light in the northern hemisphere’s night sky. This display is mostly in hues of pale green or pink, yet occasionally, they show hues of other colors such as red, yellow, green, blue and violet.  

The cause of Northern Lights is the interaction between Earth’s magnetic field and charged particles from the sun’s atmosphere that enter Earth’s atmosphere. A solar flare is where the energetic particles from the sun originate, and then they float through space on solar wind, before interacting with Earth’s magnetic field. The bursts of colorful light are colliding electrons and atoms that cause the electrons to return to a lower energy state that releases photons or light particles.  

Typically, locations farther north in the northern hemisphere including Norway, Sweden, Iceland, Finland, and Greenland are best suited to catch the Northern Lights.  So, why were we able to view the Northern Lights in North Carolina last week? The answer is an unusually strong solar storm that is associated with a sunspot that’s 16 times the diameter of Earth.

The outburst reached Earth on Friday, May 10, 2024. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issued a rare severe geomagnetic storm warning that would last into the next week. NOAA alerted operators of power plants, aircraft and spacecraft to take precautions.

For civilians on Earth, we do not need to take precautions, and it is unlikely we will see any power outages this far south. We can simply enjoy looking at the hues in the sky that we normally cannot see. NOAA predicted that the Northern Lights could be seen as far south as Alabama and Florida.  

Some may have looked up into the sky already and been discouraged by not seeing anything. It is recommended to view the Northern Lights by using your phone cameras, because they are better at capturing light than the naked eye. Using your phone camera on night vision setting has been noted as the most optimal way to capture all the hues in the sky.  

There is good news for anyone who missed the Northern Lights or enjoyed watching the show.  Scientists state we are at the maximum of the sun’s 11-year cycle, and the maximum could last 2 or 3 years. As scientists watch the number of sunspots explode, there could be future opportunities predicted in the forecast. 

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