Severe solar storm sparks stunning auroras around the world

On April 23, 2023, a severe solar storm hit Earth and produced magnificent aurora displays around the world. This was caused by a coronal mass ejection (CME) that left the sun on April 21. The storm peaked as a G4 on the 5-grade scale used by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to assess the severity of space weather events. The supercharging of molecules in Earth's atmosphere triggered the colorful spectacles, which are usually visible in areas at high latitudes for the aurora borealis (northern lights) and low latitudes for the aurora australis (southern lights). However, this time, skywatchers around the world were treated to dazzling aurora borealis displays that reached as far south as Colorado and New Mexico.

The Science behind the Solar Storm

Geomagnetic storms are disturbances to Earth's magnetic field caused by solar material from coronal mass ejections (CME) - large expulsions of plasma and magnetic field from the sun's atmosphere. During a solar storm, energized particles from the sun slam into Earth's atmosphere at speeds of up to 45 million mph (72 million kph), and our planet's magnetic field funnels the particles toward the poles. This is why the auroras are typically visible only in areas close to the poles.

Dazzling Auroras Captured in Photographs

Skywatchers around the world captured breathtaking photographs of the auroras. Astrophotographer Ben Brotherton snapped an impressive photograph from his backyard in Herefordshire, West Midlands, UK. Allan Trow's stunning image from Rhigos Mountain, South Wales, UK, shows the moon and Venus conjunction shining bright on the left side of the aurora light show. Alice Hwange was surprised to see the northern lights in Southern California. Edwin Mabonga captured an enchanting mix of aurora scenes in Southland, New Zealand, despite the clouds. Kaitlin Moore saw a beautiful aurora display from Madison, Wisconsin, US.

Photographer Captures a Possible Lyrid Meteor

Landon Moeller not only captured the aurora above Apple River, Illinois, US but caught a possible Lyrid meteor too! "Suddenly a bright white/blue meteor streaked from the east to the west through the light pillars for about 4-5 seconds before burning up and leaving a big smoke trail. It was incredible!" Moeller said in an email to Moeller's luck continued throughout the night, as the photographer managed to snap yet another Lyrid meteor streaking across the aurora-soaked sky.

Impromptu Aurora Photography Class

Edwin Mabonga invited people who wanted help in taking photos to meet outside his house in Southland, New Zealand. He had a mother and her three children as well as a lady in her 60s turn up with their phones. "They were both surprised that their phones could take aurora photos and happy to have seen their first aurora," Mabonga said in an email to "Overall, a very satisfying evening for me despite the clouds."

Social Media Goes Crazy over Auroras

Many skywatchers took to Twitter to showcase their incredible aurora photographs. Kyle Brittain captured the beautiful aurora light show above the city skyline in Calgary, Canada, despite the bright city lights. The bright green and pink/purple of the ionized gases were visible only on the long exposure, but even with the naked eye, a faint, unfurling light was visible low on the horizon," Kaitlin Moore tweeted.

Aurora borealis and possible Lyrid meteor above Apple River, Illinois, U.S. (Image credit: Landon Moeller)
Aurora borealis and possible Lyrid meteor above Apple River, Illinois, U.S.(Image credit: Landon Moeller)

Aurora above Herefordshire, U.K. (Image credit: Ben Brotherton)

Aurora from Rhigos Mountain, South Wales, U.K. (Image credit: Allan Trow of Dark Sky Wales)

Aurora borealis and possible Lyrid meteor above Apple River, Illinois, U.S.(Image credit: Landon Moeller)

Aurora above Owens Peak Wilderness in the Southern Sierra. (Image credit: Alice Hwange)

(Image credit: Edwin Mabonga)

(Image credit: Edwin Mabonga)

(Image credit: Edwin Mabonga)

(Image credit: Kaitlin Moore)

(Image credit: Kaitlin Moore)

(Image credit: Kaitlin Moore)

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