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What Sparked the Most Intense Northern Lights in Decades Across the US?

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The ethereal glow of the northern lights illuminated the night skies across the United States on Friday, captivating observers with a breathtaking display of colorful auroras. Sparked by a massive solar storm – the most potent in decades – the phenomenon extended as far south as Florida and the Bahamas, surprising and delighting many who ventured out to witness the spectacle.

Excitingly, those who missed Friday night’s display may have another opportunity on Saturday or Sunday. The Space Weather Prediction Center announced that if weather conditions permit, the northern lights could once again grace the skies across the US. However, forecasting space weather remains challenging, as experts rely on observations of the distant sun to make predictions.

Auroras, also known as the northern lights, are best observed away from the glare of city lights, and experts advise finding a dark location for optimal viewing. Despite being in urban areas, some residents, including those in metro Detroit, reported sightings of the auroras on Friday night.

Wisconsin residents were treated to a spectacle of green and purple hues dancing across the sky, with even downtown Milwaukee offering glimpses of the phenomenon despite light pollution. The potential for viewing the auroras again this weekend has sparked anticipation among enthusiasts.

According to the Space Weather Prediction Center’s experimental forecast map, the auroras may be visible across a wide swath of the US on Saturday, including states like Oregon, Nebraska, Indiana, Pennsylvania, and New York. However, visibility will depend on various factors, including weather conditions.

For Sunday night, forecasters predict that the auroras could once again be visible over the northern half of the country, with potential sightings extending as far south as Alabama and northern California. The effects of the solar storm are expected to persist through Sunday, providing additional opportunities for aurora sightings.

Weather forecasts for Saturday night indicate generally favorable conditions for aurora viewing across most of the US. However, areas such as New England, the Mid-Atlantic regions, and parts of the Southern Plains may experience cloud cover, hindering visibility. Nevertheless, meteorologists remain hopeful that even brief breaks in the clouds could offer glimpses of the auroras.

The spectacle of the northern lights is caused by a geomagnetic storm originating from a cluster of sunspots on the sun’s surface. This particular storm, classified as an “extreme” event, is the strongest since 2003, according to the Space Weather Prediction Center. While the auroras offer a stunning visual display, the storm’s effects also include disruptions to power grids and communication systems.

The widespread sightings of the northern lights on Friday night, reaching as far south as Florida, Oklahoma, Texas, and Arizona, delighted observers across the US and Europe. However, cloud cover obscured the view for some in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions.

The appearance of the auroras in southern regions is a relatively rare occurrence, typically associated with large coronal mass ejections from the sun triggering geomagnetic storms. NASA, in collaboration with other organizations, is collecting aurora sightings and photos to study this natural phenomenon further.

The stunning display of the auroras on Friday night, with vibrant red hues observed in some areas, left observers in awe of the natural spectacle. The rare occurrence of such vivid colors adds to the allure of the northern lights, which continue to captivate people around the world with their mesmerizing beauty.

As reported by USA Today in their recent article

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