Auroral rainbow spotted in southwest Virginia Sunday night
The Northern Lights were visible for the seventh time this year
ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - For the seventh time this year, the Northern Lights were visible as far south as the Blue Ridge Mountains.
A strong geomagnetic storm brought shades of red to our night sky Sunday night. This phenomena is called Stable Auroral Red, or sometimes referred to as an auroral rainbow. The arch-like appearance of red lights is a somewhat rare event, according to American Geophysical Union.
The aurora reached G3 strength, which is level three out of five on the geomagnetic storm scale.
- G1 - MINOR: G1 storms may cause weak power grid fluctuations and have minor impacts on satellites. Usually the best view for Northern Lights is in Canada and Alaska.
- G2 - MODERATE: Power systems located in high latitudes may experience voltage alarms during elongated G2 storms. Some of the most northern points of the United States could see an aurora.
- G3 - STRONG: G3 strength storms could affect some radio navigation, and false alarms may be triggered on some protection devices. The Northern Lights could be seen in the Pacific Northwest, and portions of the Northeast.
- G4 - SEVERE: Widespread voltage control issues and faulty satellite navigation could occur with a severe geomagnetic storm. Portions of California and the South could see the Northern Lights.
- G5 - EXTREME: In the very rare event that a solar storm reaches G5 levels, power systems could see widespread blackouts. Satellite navigation could be down for several days. The Northern Lights could be visible as far south as Texas and Florida.
The Northern Lights happen when solar winds follow Earth’s magnetic field, and enter the atmosphere at the poles-- where the field is the weakest. The electrons then collide with various molecules in the atmosphere, which create varying colors based on the height and type of molecules hit.
WILL WE SEE THE NORTHERN LIGHTS AGAIN?
We’re not expecting to see the Northern Lights again this week, but later this month there looks to be another opportunity.
Tonight, the solar storm will be weaker. Most of the lights will be in Canada.
Later on this month, we could see some dim lights make an appearance along the horizon. The best area to view the aurora will be higher elevations and far away from light pollution. Clouds could also inhibit viewing.
WHY WE’RE SEEING MORE SOLAR ACTIVITY
We’ve seen an influx of solar activity this year because we’re getting close to peak solar cycle. Solar activity usually occurs on an 11-year cycle. NASA predicts our current solar cycle will reach its peak Jan. through Oct. 2024. Our last solar cycle ran from 2008 through 2019.
Copyright 2023 WDBJ. All rights reserved.