GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) — You’d have to fly to Greenland or the Arctic for a chance to glimpse the Northern Lights, right? Well, that’s actually not true.
In a rare powerful event, the Northern Lights show is visible as far south as North Carolina. You just have to pay close attention to the forecast.
On March 23, the brilliant colors of the northern lights were visible as far south as the Blue Ridge mountains in North Carolina. This was somewhat unexpected. In the days leading up to the Northern Light show, forecasters thought a lot of the solar particles that cause them had already passed Earth. But it turned out two separate coronal mass ejections brought enough energy for the powerful light show, which was rated a 4 on the 5-part scale.
The Northern Lights are caused by geomagnetic storms, coronal mass ejections that send charged particles into Earth’s magnetic field. Interactions with different atmospheric gasses largely determine the auroras colors. Oxygen yields green and red and nitrogen yields blue.
It’s extremely rare for the Northern Lights to reach this far south, but strong geomagnetic storms become more common towards the end of the sun’s 11-year cycle, which ends in 2025.