Aurora Borealis | Northern Lights | Madison, Wisconsin
The evening of Thursday March 23rd my phone was getting notifications of solar storm aka - Northern lights. We don't typically see the lights around this area at all. City lights drown out the night sky, plus the Northern lights typically don't reach this far south. This evening things were different. Very different. Just a few days earlier on March 20th the sun released a vey large Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) aimed directly at Earth. These solar storms travel a very high rate of speed. This flare traveled in excess of 600km/s. So what does this all mean you may ask. The National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration issued Geomagnetic Storm Watch for March 23rd -25th. Storms are rated on "G-Scale" Geomagnetic Storms G-1 thru G-5. They are also based on a "Planetary K index" or known as the "KP" this ranges from KP-0 thru KP-9. So basically Wisconsin experienced a G-4 / KP-8 Geomagnetic storm and these lights were seen as far south as New Mexico.
March 23, 2023 CME Arrives | Rare Northern Lights Show In The Midwest
Earth took a direct hit from this storm that caused the night sky to erupt in blazing colors racing across the sky. Images started to appear on social media and messages from all over the state. Some viewers saw the lights completely overhead raining down as they danced across the sky. In my travels as a photographer I have only been blessed a few times to see the northern lights directly overhead and this was in Alaska during a photography workshop that I run. So to see this type of activity right here at home was simply amazing and very rare! I shared this experience with my family down at the Memorial Union. This is a very popular University Of Wisconsin area in the summer time for students. The Bucky Badger mascot of Wisconsin was the location I wanted to try and capture with northern lights. This was the image I captured called "Cosmo Bucky"
Colors of the Northern Lights
Why did we see different colors in the sky some people have asked. Well here's why, the light show we see from the ground is caused by electrically charged particles from space entering the Earth’s upper atmosphere at a very high speed. The Earth’s atmosphere is made up of different atoms like oxygen and nitrogen. These atoms cause the colors we can see in the "Northern Lights". Depending on where these atoms become excited at different levels in the atmosphere they will produce different colors that we see. Some common colors seen are green, red, purple, violet, yellow and blue. These colors are produced and are excited at different altitudes.
Up to 60 miles: Blue with Nitrogen
Above 60 miles Purple or violet with Nitrogen
Up to 150 miles: Green will be visible with oxygen
Above 150 miles: Red with oxygen
University Of Wisconsin Mascot Bucky Badger
Northern Lights Across The Last Frontier of Alaska
In all my travels searching out the Northern Lights I have found Alaska to be the most incredible area to watch Mother Nature's light show. Check out some of my favorites here! If you would like to join me on an incredible trip to see the Northern Lights check out the workshops on my site with Light Chasing Photo Tours.