Stunning light shows were reported in multiple Western and Midwestern states, including Montana, South Dakota, Wisconsin and Minnesota.
The northern lights, or aurora borealis, come from charged particles that spew from the sun during solar storms. The colorful light displays are created when these clouds of energetic particles collide with Earth’s magnetic field and interact with the atoms and molecules in the planet’s upper atmosphere.
The northern lights typically illuminate the night sky at high latitudes, but during intense periods of solar activity, they can occasionally be spotted farther south than normal.
The auroras seen overnight Monday owed to an eruption known as a coronal mass ejection that occurred Saturday on the sun. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Space Weather Prediction Center said in an alert early Tuesday that it was tracking a “strong” geomagnetic storm, adding that sightings of the northern lights were possible across a slew of states from Oregon to Pennsylvania, weather permitting.
The northern lights typically appear as shimmering curtains or pillars of green and purple light, but depending on the composition and density of the atmosphere, it's possible to see red, blue and pink hues as well.
A branch of the National Weather Service in Aberdeen, South Dakota, shared photos late Monday of spectacular green and purple lights dancing across the night sky.
In Glasgow, Montana, clouds threatened to spoil the show, but patient skywatchers were still treated to some awe-inspiring displays, according to weather service officials.
NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center maintains an aurora dashboard that provides short-term forecasts of the northern lights. If conditions are clear, auroras are best viewed from locations that are dark and away from city lights.