Northern Lights Drop Down South

Northern Lights Visible to Kentucky and Indiana Residents Friday, May 10
The Northern Lights visible to the eye in Glendale, KY (May 10).
The Northern Lights visible to the eye in Glendale, KY (May 10).
Hanna Grass

For those in the loop with atmospheric affairs, Friday night was a sight to behold. A painted starry night sky colored with various hues dazzled many Hoosiers and Kentuckians alike. This was no simple burnt sienna of a summer sunset, but an ever changing color palette present when solar winds hit Earth’s atmosphere. For most southerners, seeing the Northern Lights was a box that would remain unchecked on their bucket list for the entirety of their lifetime. However, dreams came true for many eager eyes this past weekend as the spectacular event became visible in our very backyards.

The Northern Lights painting the night sky with an array of vibrant colors (May 10).

Many are wondering what caused this miraculous event, and the explanation is rather simple: a geomagnetic storm that just so happened to appear in Kentucky and Indiana skies.

A geomagnetic is a major disturbance of Earth’s magnetosphere that occurs when there is a very efficient exchange of energy from the solar wind into the space environment surrounding our planet. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, “These storms result from variations in the solar wind that produce major changes in the currents, plasmas, and fields in Earth’s magnetosphere. The solar wind conditions that are effective for creating geomagnetic storms are sustained (for several to many hours) periods of high-speed solar wind, and most importantly, a southward directed solar wind magnetic field (opposite the direction of Earth’s field) at the dayside of the magnetosphere.”

This particular geomagnetic storm was rather rare and severe, receiving a G5 rating by the NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center. They released the initial notice on Thursday, issuing a watch for the storm over the course of the next three days – the first since 2003.

“Geomagnetic storms do have the potential to impact infrastructure in near-Earth orbit and on the planet’s surface including potential disruptions to communications, electric power grid, navigation, radio and satellite operations,” WHAS11 News officials warned in a press release preparing for the event.

Luckily for most Kentucky residents like myself, there were few disruptions to my technological connections, even in the very moments when solar winds hit Earth’s atmosphere and beauty filled my vision.

For those who may not have witnessed the Northern Lights here down south, I dearly hope that the conditions align once more so that you can experience the awe firsthand. It was truly incredible and I remain amazed by the natural occurrences that play out around us each and every day.

The Northern Lights dancing in the night sky above Glendale, KY (May 10). (Hanna Grass)
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