Sure Enough, Solar Flare Creates Amazing Aurora Borealis Display

On October 11, a G2-rated geomagnetic solar storm ignited a spectacular northern lights display.

The aurora borealis and geography

Although the aurora borealis can occur in many places, they are most common at latitudes between 60˚ and 75˚. There is a sweet spot in Earth’s atmosphere known as the aurora zone. Within it, the atmosphere is thin relative to more southerly latitudes. Less encumbered by atmospheric constraints, this zone is particularly sensitive to solar flares.

That also means that a solar flare must rate higher on the geomagnetic scale for the aurora to be visible beyond the aurora zone. Monday’s moderate G2 solar storm was visible in more southern latitudes (like New York, Wisconsin, and Washington state) than the majority of storms, which are rated G1. That also means that the intensity of yesterday’s storm appeared much more intense within the aurora zone.

Last night on Baffin Island. Photo: Lynn Moorman

The northern lights from Baffin Island

Lynn Moorman, a professor of geography at the University of Calgary, had just checked in to her hotel in Iqaluit, Nunavut. She and several colleagues had traveled to the Baffin Island town for field research. As luck would have it, Moorman — and her camera — were in the perfect place at the perfect time: Iqaluit’s latitude sits at 63.7467° N. “We are staying at a hotel called Aqsarniit. In Inuktitut, Aqsarniit means northern lights!” she told ExplorersWeb.

The northern lights over Iqaluit, in the Canadian Arctic. Photo: Lynn Moorman


Although no stranger to the northern lights — they’re often visible from her home in Calgary — Moorman described October 11’s aurora borealis as the most intensely colorful and active she’d ever seen.

Most northern lights are visible after sunset, but Moorman and her colleagues were able to make some of yesterday’s activity out as early as 5 pm. Between 7:30 and 8 pm, “it went crazy! The photos don’t even compare to the real thing.”

Vibrant pinks, purples, and greens dominated the celestial array, swirling rapidly in and around the night sky. Although she was able to capture a litany of photographs, video documentation just wasn’t feasible. “It was moving too fast [for the camera] to focus!”

Photo: Lynn Moorman