Lights in the Sky


Lights in the Sky!

Generally speaking, most auroras are an atmospheric phenomenon only observed by the extreme northern latitudes.  However, on June 28, the “Northern Lights” spread as far south as Kansas as the Earth passed through a strong blast of solar wind.  Mostly clear skies across Central Illinois in the early evening provided an unusually spectacular sunset.

Auroras are typically seen in the polar latitudes (both Arctic and Antarctic) when charged atomic particles collide with the Earth’s atmosphere at very high altitudes (thermosphere).  Geomagnetic storms can drive the phenomenon even further into lower latitudes. These geomagnetic storms, or disturbances in the magnetosphere, are often caused by coronal mass ejections (CME). Coronal mass ejections are massive bursts of solar energy originating on the surface of the sun. Auroras are more frequent and brighter during the maximum of the solar cycle due to CME activity.

Auroras can also occur as Earth collides with a high speed stream of solar wind. This would be the case for the Friday night event. These types of events are more common during the minimum of the solar cycle.

 Auroras (also aurorae) in the northern hemisphere are known as aurora borealis, or the "Northern Lights." Auroras in the southern hemisphere are aurora australis, or "Southern Lights."

Streaks in the lights are a result of the charged particles following the magnetic field stream lines of the Earth.


Geomagnetic storms are actually more common near the equinoxes (equinoctes),  not the solstices.

More information:

Space Weather Prediction Center

Aurora Viewing Information

Space Weather Education


Special thanks to Jodi Irvin, one of our SWOP observers for the spectacular photographs.


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