Why are the Northern Lights visible in unexpected locations this week?

Why are the Northern Lights visible in unexpected locations this week?

Also known as the aurora borealis, vivid glimpses of the Northern Lights have graced the night skies in locations that have never before experienced the phenomenon
13 May 24
الأضواء الشمالية فوق أفق مدينة تورنتو، المصدر: Unsplash: Rishabh Malhotra

Over the last week or so, various locations across Europe and Northern America have been treated to stunning displays of the Northern Lights, also known as the Aurora Borealis.

These celestial lights are often limited to the most northerly or southerly regions of the world, however, in the last week or so the swirling, shimmering symphony of bold colours have been spotted in unusual locations, we dive into the reasons why the glowing ribbons of light are no longer limited to the polar regions.

The Aurora Borealis

Often regarded as a bucket-list life and travel experience, travellers from all around the world venture to often to far-northern destinations such as Iceland, Sweden, Norway, and Alaska in hopes of witnessing the mesmerising colours of the Aurora Borealis, also known more commonly as the Northern Lights.

However, even in far north locations, during peak seasons, there is no guarantee of catching a glimpse of the deep space light show, but experts say that 2024 is the best year to see the luminescent waves of vibrant pinks, purples and greens of space will be more visible than ever before.

The celestial phenomenon occurs when charged particles discharged from the sun interact with the various gases within the Earth's atmosphere near the magnetic poles, resulting in stunning night time auroras. And it is because of this atmospheric interaction, we are treated to the intense and vivid colours of the resulting solar flares.

Following the most powerful solar storm in almost two decades, the Northern Lights have been visible across the night sky in various unusual locations, with thanks to widespread dry and clear conditions across Europe. The ideal combination of conditions to catch a glimpse of the vivid dancing lights in the night sky.

Why are the Northern Lights visible in unusual locations?

According to the Space Weather Prediction Centre, part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the extended visibility of the Aurora Borealis is as a result of a massive G4 level geomagnetic storm event in space, which was then upgraded to a G5 level (the highest level on the space weather scale).

Usually confined to the northern most territories and high-latitude regions of the world, the vivid splashes of colour have extended beyond the Arctic Circle to Ireland, the United Kingdom and even Northern America. The New York Times reported that the vivid colours could be seen in the night sky as far south as Florida and Central America.

Due to its location and proximity to the southern pole, New Zealand has also experienced the unique and colourful phenomenon, known as the Southern Lights, offering a similar sight to the aforementioned Northern Lights.

Often considered a bucket list experience, tourists regularly travel to far north locations such as Iceland, Sweden, Norway and Alaska to see the colours of the aurora borealis, and even during a trip at peak times, it is not guaranteed.