On the morning of May 12, a rare display of the northern lights was visible in parts of the northern United States, including in parts of Minnesota and Alaska. Skygazers in parts of Canada, Europe, the United Kingdom and New Zealand were also able to catch a glimpse.
Seeing the northern lights is usually difficult during the day due to the sun. Cloud coverage also plays a role. The northern lights are a result of electrons colliding with the upper reaches of Earth’s atmosphere, according to the Space Weather Prediction Center of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
“The accelerated electrons follow the magnetic field of Earth down to the Polar Regions where they collide with oxygen and nitrogen atoms and molecules in Earth’s upper atmosphere,” the organization explains. “In these collisions, the electrons transfer their energy to the atmosphere thus exciting the atoms and molecules to higher energy states. When they relax back down to lower energy states, they release their energy in the form of light. This is similar to how a neon light works.”
You’re most likely to see the northern lights in the spring or winter. You can also expect them to appear close to a new moon.
“Active periods are typically about 30 minutes long, and occur every two hours, if the activity is high,” Dr. Charles Deehr, a professor emeritus and aurora forecast at the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute, wrote in a guide to aurora viewing, as quoted by Space.com. “The aurora is a sporadic phenomenon, occurring randomly for short periods or perhaps not at all.”
Some people were lucky enough to capture some stunning photos of the northern lights. Check out this snap posted by Twitter user @levikj, taken in Isabella, Minn.: