Missed the Historic Auroras? You Have a Second Chance Tonight

A breathtaking view of the Northern Lights displaying vibrant green and purple hues in the night sky, with a bright full moon illuminating the scene.

Thanks to a historic geomagnetic storm last night, May 10th, people as far south as Florida had the chance to see auroras. For those who missed the dazzling light show for one reason or another, there is a second chance tonight, May 11th.

Currently, the geomagnetic storm is still generating a Kp 9 rating, which is as high as the scale. While this may drop slightly, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Space Weather Prediction Center (NOAA SWPC) expects a G4-class storm to persist until tomorrow before dropping to G3 on Monday. A G4 storm is “severe,” and G3 is “strong,” so there are plenty more opportunities to see the northern lights in the coming days, especially for those at mid-high and high latitudes.

A vibrant display of the Northern Lights in the night sky, showing streaks of purple, blue, and green above a dark silhouette of a tree.

A striking image of the night sky with shimmering pink and purple aurora beams radiating diagonally against a deep purple backdrop filled with stars.

NOAA says that “storming of varying intensity will persist through at least Sunday,” and notes that Sunspot region 3664 remains active. It is still producing X-class flares as of late Saturday morning, meaning the storm may continue for a while.

A detailed image of the Sun captured in ultraviolet light, showing bright, intense solar activity and magnetic loops on its surface.
Credit: NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory

This is brilliant news for photographers and night sky enthusiasts, although it is not great news for the power grid and high-frequency communications infrastructures.

A weather alert graphic showing a geostorm with key conditions highlighted, including intense auroras predicted across parts of the U.S., and possible power grid irregularities marked by a bright red and yellow storm model on a map.

Given that many people, especially in the southern portions of the U.S., are likely seeing the northern lights for the first time, the spectacle can seem different from expectations. While many have seen the brilliant greens, pinks, and purples in photos, to the naked eye, auroras usually look more like moving ribbons of pale white. In the case of a G4 or G5 storm, it is possible to see colors with the naked eye, especially pink and green, but that is somewhat unusual.

A night sky illuminated by a pale purple aurora with stars visible and a bright celestial body, possibly a planet or moon, shining vividly above a faintly lit landscape.
Somewhat surprisingly, it’s even possible to shoot the northern lights handheld with some smartphones.

As many found out last night, a clever and simple way to see some of the colors of the auroral display is to whip out your smartphone, open the camera app, and point it toward the sky. Thanks in part to all the fancy processing in modern smartphones, including low-light modes, the camera’s sensitivity is high enough to see some of the northern lights in real time.

A vibrant display of the northern lights in a clear night sky, with vivid colors ranging from deep violet to bright green, alongside a visible moon.

Vibrant aurora borealis displays vivid pink and green streaks across a twilight sky, with a bright moon visible near the horizon.

A vivid display of the Northern Lights in the sky, featuring radiant streaks of pink, green, and purple colors against a dark, starry backdrop, with silhouettes of tall trees at the bottom.

To get the best shots, photographers should use a proper camera system, ideally with a large sensor and fast lens. For all the tips you’ll need, check out PetaPixel‘s “How to Find and Photograph the Northern Lights” guide. Of course, given the incredible and once-in-a-generation solar storm thrashing Earth, finding the northern lights is nearly as easy as finding a clear, dark night sky.

Image credits: Photos by Jeremy Gray