People across much of Canada were treated to a dazzling display of purple, pink, blue and green pairs overnight from Thursday to Friday as the Northern Lights danced and shimmered as far as the eye could see.
While most people only see the lights from the ground, pilot Matt Melnick observed the scene at 36,000 feet.
He first spotted the Northern Lights while driving from Las Vegas to Calgary around 9 p.m. Thursday.
“The aurora was so strong that we were starting to see it as far south as Idaho Falls! Wow!” he told Global News.
“It just got better and better the closer I got to Calgary. It was dancing over all the windows on the plane, it was absolutely amazing.”
Then he saw other lights a few hours later, while traveling from Calgary to Abbotsford, British Columbia, around midnight.
The 20-year-old pilot and photographer said it had been years since he had captured such a vibrant scene. He said it never gets old and feels lucky to see it from his height.
“It was probably the best view I’ve had in a very long time from an airplane.”
From British Columbia to southern Ontario, people have reported seeing the Northern Lights, after a “severe” geomagnetic storm made the Northern Lights visible farther south.
A severe geomagnetic storm makes the aurora borealis visible in southern Ontario
Even in Alberta, people as far south as Lethbridge have witnessed this phenomenon.
The lights are made up of charged particles emitted from the sun, moving through space and hitting the Earth’s atmosphere.
Meteorologist Ross Hall told Global News that a coronal hole has formed in the sun. It is a cooler, less dense region that could allow the solar wind to return to Earth more easily.
“As it moves toward Earth, the solar wind interacts with our geomagnetic field (which protects our planet from such events) and these geomagnetic events have different intensities,” said Hull.
The lights move because charged particles entangle Earth’s magnetic shield.
Recent solar activity has created the conditions for observing this phenomenon in the far south, and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issued a geomagnetic storm watch for March 23-25.
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Our solar activity is increasing. Chris Ratzlaff of the Alberta Aurora Chasers, a local group that monitors the possibility of the Northern Lights, explained that the sun has an 11-year cycle and that we are nearing the peak of its 11-year cycle.
They analyze the data, track solar events, monitor solar wind speeds, and then share their findings on social media.
Normally, aurora watchers have to leave the bright city lights to fully enjoy the show, but Thursday and Friday it was clear enough to look inside Edmonton.
“You definitely don’t get that often. To get such a strong aurora borealis, we probably see it a few times a year, where you can see it from within the city,” Ratzlaff said.
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Frank Florian, director of planetarium and space sciences at Telus World of Science in Edmonton, previously told Global News that the weather and temperature on Earth do not influence when the aurora borealis occur.
Despite this, the farther north a person is, the more likely they are to see the lights because they are closer to what is known as an “auroral oval”.
The ellipse is usually centered around Earth’s north and south magnetic poles, but it can expand during periods of intense solar activity.
The Northern Lights dance across the British Columbia sky, to the delight of photographers
As the oval gets larger, Florian said, the aurora borealis can be seen from points farther south. Sometimes, after a strong geomagnetic storm, it can be seen as far south as the United States.
Edmonton area residents who would like to receive an alert about the Northern Lights can sign up for AuroraWatch email alerts.
AuroraWatch is led by Andy Calley, Ian Mann, Kyle Murphy and David Mealing of the University of Alberta’s Department of Physics.
The stunning northern lights dominate the North American night sky
Their website provides real-time monitoring of geomagnetic activity in the Edmonton area, although greater activity can be seen throughout Alberta.
Yellow alerts are issued when there is more than a 50% chance of auroral displays occurring, and red alerts are issued when there is more than a 70% chance.
Below: Pictures of the Northern Lights from Thursday night/Friday morning in Alberta.
–With files from Ryan Rocca, Global News