Incredible Northern Lights Photos Show U.S. Skies Glowing After Solar Storm

Northern lights were pictured across upper U.S. regions on Thursday morning after a solar eruption caused a strong geomagnetic storm.

The famous shimmering lights, also called auroras, were photographed in states such as North and South Dakota, Montana, and Washington.

Space weather experts had predicted increased auroral activity earlier this week after solar flares and accompanying coronal mass ejections (CMEs)—vast clouds of plasma—were ejected from the sun towards our planet.

The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) issued a G3 "strong" geomagnetic storm alert on Tuesday. G3 is in the middle of the G-scale which describes the severity of geomagnetic storms from 1 to 5, with 5 being extreme.

On Tuesday, the SWPC noted the storm could potentially cause irregularities in power system voltages, increase the amount of atmospheric drag on low-Earth orbit satellites, and cause some GPS navigation problems—though is also said the impacts on electronics from G3-level geomagnetic storms "generally remain small."

As of around 6:45 a.m. ET on Thursday morning, it was unclear whether any electrical issues had occurred. SWPC data showed the storm had reached a maximum of G1 up to that point.

Still, this was strong enough to cause some spectacular sights for skywatchers.

The below photographs were taken by Montana resident Kylan Jensen and shared with Newsweek in the early hours of Thursday morning.

In Focus

Northern Lights 30/31st March

The Northern Lights can be particularly active during geomagnetic storms.
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"I'd say I probably see them a few times a year," said Jensen, who stayed up to observe Thursday morning's lights after hearing about them from a local weather station.

"They were beautiful. I've never seen them reach so high in the sky before! Usually you see them across the horizon, but these went way farther than I expected! Totally worth losing sleep over!"

Jensen first noticed the lights at around 9:50 p.m. MST on Wednesday and said they were still going at 4:00 a.m. the following morning, though not as bright.

The following image was posted to Twitter by atmospheric and environmental science researcher Lexy Elizalde, taken in South Dakota.

Northern Lights 30/31st March
A photo of the Northern Lights over South Dakota, shimmering in green and red. The lights were strengthened this week by a geomagnetic storm. Lexy Elizalde

"I literally can't believe this happened tonight," Elizalde tweeted. "Eight meteorology students, three mechanical engineering students, two journalists, and one meteorologist all watching the northern lights together. This went way better than imagined. So, so happy."

Other examples can be seen below.

Even though auroras are best seen at night, they are caused by the sun. The reason they occur is due to the interaction between solar particles and gases in the Earth's atmosphere.

When solar particles are directed towards Earth, some of them are directed towards the Earth's north and south poles by our planet's magnetic field. The particles, concentrated in these areas, excite the atmospheric gases which causes the beautiful colors associated with the auroras.

Since geomagnetic storms are caused by disturbances to Earth's magnetic field and clouds of solar particles, auroras occur closer to the equator than they normally would. If an extreme geomagnetic storm were to occur, northern lights could potentially be seen in U.S. states as low as Florida and Texas.