John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
An ongoing geomagnetic storm is sending shimmering waves of light deep into North America.
First-time visitors to Michigan, Maine, and other northern states might've woken up this morning preparing for an alien abduction. The skies were afire with wild colors of purple, pink, and green, thanks to an ongoing geomagnetic storm that has sent the aurora borealis shimmering below the Canadian border.
The astral extravaganza is likely due to the sun popping off solar flares and coronal mass ejections on Valentine's Day – a sight that in its own right is rather impressive, as evident in this image from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory:
The incoming clouds of charged particles are producing what's known as a G2, or "moderate," magnetic storm above Earth. The Space Weather Prediction Center explains what that might mean for us humans:
G2 Storms occur on approximately 360 days out of every 11 year solar cycle, so this in not extraordinary. However minor impacts to some technical systems can occur. Furthermore, stunning display of the Northern Lights is possible a little farther south than usual.
That display was in full effect in today's pre-dawn hours. In Sauk Rapids, Minnesota, the skies were so bright they looked like one giant green screen. Here's an owl taking advantage of the opportunity to strike a grand pose, as photographed by "Weather Paparazzi" Doug Kiesling:
In Marquette, Michigan, photographer Shawn Malone captured this view of the lights dancing above a frozen Lake Superior:
Mike Taylor grabbed this shot from central Maine of what looks like somebody holding a magnet to an ancient TV monitor:
Farther north in Canada, the displays were just ridiculous. Here's a majestic pairing of the auroras with a lunar halo, taken about 150 miles northwest of Edmonton: