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Laura Austin Photo / The aurora borealis, caused by a strong geomagnetic storm, was visible across the Indian Wells Valley last weekend—a rare sight and opportunity for spectacular photographs. Officials said people in the southern U.S. who could not see the aurora with their naked eyes could still take dazzling pictures with their cameras and phones.

A rare solar storm, a potentially historic event, displayed aurora borealis

By LAURA AUSTIN News Review Staff Writer– 

On Friday, May 10, 2024, space weather forecasters predicted a “severe” solar storm. When it came, it was even stronger than expected, at “extreme” levels.

The geomagnetic storm was caused by at least five coronal mass ejections (CMEs) that left the sun this week during a flurry of X flares. These chunks of sun material struck Earth’s magnetic field, causing the fantastic auroral display.

Lucky viewers enjoyed a once-in-a-lifetime sight as a strong geomagnetic storm brought the northern lights to Southern California.

Onlookers were able to enjoy breathtaking views as the skies turned a brilliant electric shade of purple, pink, green, and yellow.

The aurora borealis, caused by a strong geomagnetic storm that hit the earth last weekend, was visible across the country and throughout California. The solar storm is the largest to hit the U.S. in over two decades.

Geomagnetic storms, also known as magnetic storms, are caused by the Sun’s activity, including CMEs and solar flares. CMEs are large bursts of plasma and magnetic fields that are ejected from the Sun’s surface. Solar flares are intense eruptions of electromagnetic radiation from the Sun’s surface.

“Geomagnetic storms can impact infrastructure in near-Earth orbit and on Earth’s surface, potentially disrupting communications, the electric power grid, navigation, radio and satellite operations,” said the United States Geological Survey (USGS).

However, geomagnetic storms can also trigger spectacular displays of aurora on Earth.

NOAA’s (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) Space Weather Prediction Center rates the strength of solar storms on a G scale—from G1 to G5. The recent storm was initially rated as G4 severity but ultimately intensified to G5. According to NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center, this event was unusual and potentially historic. The severity was what made the storm unique.

The aurora activity was scheduled to continue Saturday night. It was predicted to carry through Sunday, May 12.

Those hoping to glimpse this historic event were suggested to head away from the city lights and relocate to remote desert or mountain areas to avoid light pollution.

The best time to see the lights were between the hours of 10 p.m. and  2 a.m.