© 2024 Aspen Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Aurora Borealis light up the sky across the Rocky Mountain region

The northern lights seen in Boulder, Colorado, on Friday, May 10, 2024.
Jon Lash
The northern lights seen in Boulder, Colorado, on Friday, May 10, 2024.

The northern lights were visible across several states, including Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah over the weekend.

The colorful display was due to a geomagnetic storm, which resulted in a burst of energy from the sun.

"The sun basically burps off blobs of plasma towards Earth, and these happened to be aimed directly at Earth, and there were several of them," said Rob Steenburgh, a Space Scientist with NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center in Boulder. 

"And so when they get to Earth and interact with our magnetic field, particles get trapped and they get ducted right down into our atmosphere, and they interact with the atoms and molecules there. And that's what provides you the aurora."

These types of geomagnetic storms can impact GPS and communications systems, as well as the power grid. Steenburgh says NOAA has been working with the power industry and federal regulators to help them understand space weather and be able to take mitigating actions.

"When these plasma blobs arrive at Earth, they'll rattle our magnetic field and that moving magnetic field can induce currents on long conductors like power lines and train tracks and pipelines," he said.

"And so the problem is, even though it sounds cool that you now have extra current running on your power lines that you didn't even have to generate, it's really not supposed to be there. And we haven't realized a way of harnessing that. So instead, we just have to mitigate the impacts of that."

The most vivid colors were visible on Friday night, but clouds covered most of Colorado and southeast Utah on Saturday and Sunday, hiding the lights from view.

Copyright 2024 Rocky Mountain Community Radio.

That story was shared with us via Rocky Mountain Community Radio, a network of public media stations in Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, and New Mexico including Aspen Public Radio.

Maeve Conran has been working in public and community radio in Colorado for more than 15 years. She served as the news director at KGNU in Boulder/Denver until 2020 and has since been working as the Program Director at Free Speech TV based in Denver, as well as host/producer of the Radio Bookclub podcast and radio show which is a collaboration with the Boulder Bookstore.