Northern lights put on a show for Canadians this Thanksgiving weekend
TORONTO -- Canadians were treated to a dazzling display of northern lights this week, as wide stripes of green filled the night sky — and social media feeds.
One MLA in B.C. called them the best he’d seen “in a decade.”
“It was as far as the eye could see,” Dan Davies told CTV News, describing ribbons of light that stretched from one side of the horizon to the other.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration stated on Monday that a geomagnetic storm watch was in effect, and has been extended into Tuesday. According to the agency, a solar flare last week launched a CME (coronal mass ejection) towards Earth, a space weather phenomenon full of magnetized plasma and particles which can all interact with Earth’s magnetic field.
This geomagnetic storm, labelled as G2, or a moderate storm, can cause powerful northern light shows even in regions that aren’t normally able to see them clearly.
Tim Yaworksi, with the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, told CTV News that although CMEs happen on a regular basis and don’t always cause aurora borealis, “this particular one was just that much more spectacular than what we normally see.”
Yaworkski keeps an eye out for aurora alerts, and so he has seen a lot in his time. He said that with most aurora borealis he’s seen in Saskatoon, Sask., the naked eye can often only pick up a little bit of movement in the sky, and you need a long exposure shot with a camera to get more brilliant colours.
“The minute I stepped out of my vehicle, my eyes still weren’t used to the darkness, and I saw the colours. I saw them dancing all around me,” he said.
“In the Saskatoon area, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve experienced them that bright.”
In Canada, the lights were seen more widely and clearly in the western provinces, with residents in B.C. and Alberta flocking to social media to post photos of the lights.
For Davies, an MLA for Peace River North in B.C., the lights were worth a trip outside of town.
He told CTV News that he was relaxing at home on Monday evening when his daughter came into the room and told him he had to look outside.
“Went outside to the front of the house, and it was like, ‘Holy!’” he said.
Although they could see the lights from their Fort Saint John backyard, the family decided to drive out to the edge of town to see them with stronger clarity.
“It was just absolutely stunning,” he said. “And we weren’t alone. The side of the country road that we went out on was just full of people. They had their lawn chairs set up behind their pickups with their hot chocolate, and just sitting there, taking in the incredible beauty.”
A Facebook group dedicated to photos of the aurora borealis in Alberta was swamped with hundreds of photos.
One resident in Airdrie, Alta., said that they’d “lived here for 50 years and never seen them this bright under city lights.”
A green haze was visible even in Metro Vancouver, where light pollution would usually make it difficult to see anything detailed.
“That’s a rarity to get [northern lights] down that far south,” Davies said.
Other provinces and territories also reported seeing the lights, including Saskatchewan, Yukon, the Northwest Territories and all the way to Ontario.
Numerous U.S. states were also treated to the display Monday night.
Whether we will see the same bright lights Tuesday night isn’t known yet, but it might be worth having a look outside just in case.