BRIGHAM CITY, Utah (ABC4) – The northern lights made an awe-inspiring appearance in Utah on April 23, painting the night sky with colorful hues of purple and green.
The colors of the Aurora Borealis might have been a little hard to see with the naked eye, but some Utah residents were able to catch the lights through their cameras. These photos provide a beautiful look into a rare celestial event this far south.
NASA Ambassador to Utah Patrick Wiggins said Utah typically gets a couple of northern light displays a year, but they are usually “kind of so-so-ish.” He called the one last night that shone over northern Utah cities pretty good, though a little lacking in color.
Wiggins told ABC4 the Aurora Borealis happens because the sun “burps” – or for more a technical term, the sun emits a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) – which hits the Earth’s atmosphere. The energy from the burp, as Wiggins likes to call them, is usually pulled farther north or south, thanks to the magnetic poles. On occasion, the burp can be just strong enough to resit that pull and make a surprise appearance farther south than usual.
“I got to tell ya, this was nothing compared to what one would see way far north but for Utah? This was not bad at all,” said Wiggins.
Just a couple of weeks ago, another CME put the lights on full display in Utah, but Wiggins said those were blocked out by clouds in the sky. He said it could be a sign that we are coming up on a more active solar cycle, though hopefully not one as active as the Carrington Event in 1859. During the Carrington Event, a strong magnetic wave from the sun caused the Aurora Borealis to be seen as far south as Florida, but sent shockwaves through telegraph wires, zapping operators and setting buildings alight.
“If that would happen today, we would end up with some real problems because it would fry a lot of our satellites,” said Wiggins. “And, of course, in the modern day, that’s how we do a lot of our communicating. So, we don’t want a really big one, but one like tonight? You know, that was pretty good.”
While he doubts Utah will get more northern light displays, he isn’t ruling out the possibility.
“That we have had two of them visible from Utah in the last few weeks? That is weird,” said Wiggins. “I don’t know if I want to call it rare, but it is definitely weird and it got my attention. So, I think I’m going to spend a little more time checking with the auroral oval just to see if we get another one.”
Wiggins told ABC4 there are websites with the maps of the auroral oval, such as the one found on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration website that can forecast when and where you might be able to see the lights. Areas in green have a chance while areas in red should definitely look toward the skies.
Though Wiggins made sure to say the only way to guarantee not seeing the northern lights is by not looking at all, so it’s always worth looking up for a few minutes if there is a possibility it will happen.