The Northern Lights made an appearance in California this week. Could it happen again?

This time it wasn’t our beloved Sacramento Kings’ beam shooting colorful rays through Northern California skies.

The Northern Lights — or Aurora Borealis - were shinning Thursday night, further south than usual, a natural phenomenon that doesn’t happen here often.

The Bee spoke with Bill Murtagh, program coordinator at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration space weather prediction center, to understand what exactly happened and what the chances are of a repeat.

Did we really see Northern Lights in Northern California Thursday night?


The colors you saw in the sky Thursday night could have been the Northern Lights, also known as the auroras. The colors are a result of solar flares and coronal mass ejections that erupt out from the sun. Eruptions from the Sun impact Earth a couple of days later, which result in the Northern Lights.

The geomagnetic storms are monitored on a scale from 1 to 5, with 1 considered a minor storm and 5 considered an extreme storm.

Thursday’s light show was measured at a G4, according to the space weather prediction center.

What happened last night was a rare occurrence, but Murtagh said it will be a more frequent in the coming years due to the sun’s cycle.

Will we see more of the natural phenomenon Friday?

There is some chatter online of another possible Northern Lights sighting for Friday night. However, the possibility of the Aurbeing visible in Northern California again will be very low, Murtagh said.

Measured on the geomagnetic scale, Friday’s storm will be likely measured on a G1 or G2 scale.

What causes these natural occurrences?

The beautiful light shows are “eruptions from the Sun, that then impact the Earth a couple days later,” Murtagh said.

“These energetic particles come flowing in to the high latitudes and interact with the Earth’s atmosphere,” Murtagh said. “That interaction ends up triggering the Aurora.”

Tips on seeing the Northern Lights

Below are tips to get the best visibility for the Northern Lights, according to the space weather prediction center:

  • Go to a dark outdoor place away from city lights.

  • Timing is important. The best time to catch a glimpse of the Aurora is usually within an hour or two of midnight.

  • Location is also important. Try to go toward the magnetic poles, further north.

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