The magical experience of a historic aurora outburst in the south

Millions across the Northern Hemisphere saw auroras for the first time Friday night. A TWN digital writer describes the experience in the U.S.

An extreme geomagnetic storm that washed over Earth on Friday night sent a vivid display of the northern lights as far south as the tropics.

Solar storms of this magnitude are a thing of legends. It's something you read about in first-hand accounts on yellowed pages. To see it in person, to live a tale that’ll be told to generations not yet born, was a deeply moving and truly magical experience.

DON'T MISS: Once-in-a-lifetime northern lights dance across North American skies

Historic aurora display May 10-11, 2024

Countless folks across Europe, North America, and Asia all had a similar experience that night—one unifying event that allowed people from all walks of life to look up and gaze at a celestial marvel.

Never did I think I could see a full aurora in North Carolina of all places. I’d only seen the northern lights once before. The last G5 solar storm on October 31, 2003, lent a faint and brief tinge of red to the northern horizon over the Washington, D.C., suburbs.

That storm two decades ago imprinted an everlasting memory and a lingering hope I’d see them again.

Despite the storm's strength, I didn't expect to see an aurora here in central North Carolina. We’re too far south, I figured, and it’s too bright even living away from the dense city lights.

Content continues below
Dennis Mersereau Aurora Pic 1 May 10 2024

I popped outside after a few people nearby posted sightings to social media. The faint green hue over the trees seemed too good to be true. I thought I imagined it at first. Light pollution and wishful thinking can play mean tricks on an eager mind.

One glance at the sky a few minutes later removed all doubt about the source of the glow.

A brilliant explosion of emerald green and subtle magenta shimmered to my northwest. The skies that are so often a deep patchwork of Carolina blue and stormy grey were alive in a kaleidoscope that few living people had ever seen from our neck of the woods before.

Dennis Mersereau Aurora Pic 2 May 10 2024

It was faint to the naked eye. But it was magnificent once your vision acclimated to the darkness. A three-second exposure on a smartphone is all it took to draw out the tremendous details above.

The show continued for the next hour with sights usually confined to the farthest outcrops of the northern latitudes.

Sharp pillars of light grew toward the Big Dipper and collapsed in an instant. Curtains of green, ribbons of red, and splashes of blue danced directly overhead.

Content continues below

One thing that took me by surprise is that the glimmering we see in animations and video clips isn’t an exaggeration, even for a relatively muted display like the one we had in the south. The northern lights really can waver like window sheers in a spring breeze.

Dennis Mersereau Aurora Pic 3 May 10 2024

It was the best kind of historic event to enjoy. This cosmic outburst required no money, no planning, and no special equipment to admire other than luck, a dark sky, and an average smartphone.

Emotions and nature are powerful forces. Folks who witness a total eclipse are often surprised by the strong reaction the event draws out of them. Getting to see the full splendour of the northern lights for the first time did the same for me.

Even though I expected an emotional response, I still didn’t realize just how meaningful it would feel. The incredible connection to our skies, our Sun, and nature itself overwhelmed me at the sight of those phenomenal colours floating against the light of distant stars.

Towns that get to see the northern lights on a regular basis are home to some of the luckiest folks to walk the planet. That we get to witness a work of natural beauty on this island of life and possibility is a never ending wonder. Our skies are truly amazing.

Follow Dennis Mersereau on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter

WATCH: Northern Lights: Once-in-a-lifetime event wows Canada