LOOK: Intense Solar Storm Results in Incredible Northern Lights

by Caitlin Berard
(Photo by OLIVIER MORIN/AFP via Getty Images)

The Northern Lights, also known as the Aurora Borealis, are among the most breathtaking natural phenomenon on earth. Auroras cause ribbons of color to stretch out among the stars, painting the sky with vibrant shades of every color imaginable.

The Aurora Borealis turns an already awe-inspiring night sky into an unbelievable work of art. Sadly, it’s typically only visible near the North Pole. This week, however, those further south were treated to an unusual sight.

On the night of September 26, stargazers all around the world were stunned by the bursts of color filling the sky. Many reported that the Northern Lights produced such a spectacular array of colors that some were entirely new.

In the U.S., the otherworldly phenomenon was spotted in states as far south as Pennsylvania, Iowa, and Oregon. Chris Wicklund, a photographer who specializes in storms and auroras, captured some truly extraordinary shots of the Northern Lights from his home state of Minnesota.

What Caused the Northern Lights to Spread So Far South?

Auroras are best seen at night, making the source of the ethereal ribbons somewhat surprising. Believe it or not, the Northern Lights are actually caused by the sun. In addition to heat and light, the sun sends energy and particles toward the Earth in a constant stream.

Because of the protective barrier of the Earth’s atmosphere, these particles go unnoticed more often than not. Every now and then, however, the sun experiences strong solar winds and storms. This causes even more energy and particles to hurtle toward the earth.

When this happens, the waves of gas and energy from the solar storm hit the Earth’s atmosphere with such force that they travel down the magnetic field lines at the poles. As the particles mix with the atmosphere, they create the gorgeous colors we know as the Northern Lights.

On the night of September 26, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issued a warning about the coming solar activity. What they initially thought to be minor solar activity, however, quickly strengthened to a near-extreme storm.

The strong solar activity sparked auroras across the globe that remained visible well into the early hours of September 27. The colors themselves didn’t fade until well into the afternoon, but they’re virtually impossible to see in daylight.