Rare photos of the Northern Lights from southern Ontario


Published May 11, 2024 at 11:56 am

northern lights, aurora borealis, southern Ontario, G5, storm,

A historic display of the Northern Lights, also known as the aurora borealis, was triggered by one of the strongest solar storms in years, captivating skywatchers across North America—including southern Ontario—and parts of Europe.

The U.S. Space Weather Prediction Center initially issued a severe G4 geomagnetic storm watch earlier this week, marking the first such alert since 2005.

This alert followed a series of solar flares and coronal mass ejections that began on May 8. However, the solar activity unexpectedly intensified, escalating to a G5 storm, extreme—the first since Halloween 2003 and the highest level on the geomagnetic storm scale.

These explosions can impact communications, the electric power grid, navigation, radio and satellite operations if they are directed at the Earth.

According to Space.com, the storm, which typically affects only northern regions and was expected to peak late Friday night into early Saturday morning, produced spectacular colours visible as far south as Alabama and Northern California. These included striking displays of pink and purple lights. Meanwhile, a wave of bright pink lights added a surreal touch to the cityscape in Vienna, Austria.

The NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Group emphasized the rarity of such an intense celestial event, which started just hours before the optimal viewing period predicted by forecasters. The space weather group also noted that even those unable to see the Northern Lights could likely capture them on newer cellphones.

Skywatchers were advised to use their smartphones to photograph the Northern Lights, as the cameras on newer phones might show more details than visible to the naked eye.

In Ontario, the Weather Network marked the best viewing times for the Northern Lights from 11 p.m. Friday to 5 a.m. Saturday. Despite this, clouds and city lights, particularly in the Greater Toronto Area, limited visibility. However, Environment and Climate Change Canada’s report of partly cloudy skies provided some hope for clearer views in less urban areas such as Caledon, Ontario.

—With files from Karen Longwell. 

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