Most spectacular aurora in years dazzles onlookers

The most vivid auroras in years dazzled onlookers across the northern hemisphere into early this morning.

The widespread intense northern lights display was visible from Finland and the United Kingdom to Maine and Minnesota, and as far south as Madison and Milwaukee.

High clouds muted the display in much of southern Minnesota but some impressive photos are coming in from up north.

 Spaceweather.com called this massive aurora burst the strongest geomagnetic storm of current Solar Cycle 24 which began in 2008. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Space Weather Prediction Center nailed the aurora forecast last night, and now says the storm is subsiding.

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NOAA

GEOMAGNETIC STORM SUBSIDING - G1 (MINOR) STORM STILL POSSIBLE.

published: Wednesday, March 18, 2015 11:25 UTC

The geomagnetic storm has subsided.  Solar wind speed remains high, however, and G1 (Minor) storm episodes are still possible.

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Vivid colors

Many are calling last night's show a bucket list scale event. Here's a great collection of photos from NOAA's Aurora Spotters.

Vivid colors danced across the sky around the northern hemisphere.

The various colors are created by gasses in the atmosphere reacting to incoming solar particles. Here's how Canada's Northern Lights Centre describes it:

WHAT ARE NORTHERN LIGHTS?

The bright dancing lights of the aurora are actually collisions between electrically charged particles from the sun that enter the earth's atmosphere. The lights are seen above the magnetic poles of the northern and southern hemispheres.

They are known as "Aurora borealis" in the north and "Aurora australis" in the south. Auroral displays appear in many colours although pale green and pink are the most common. Shades of red, yellow, green, blue, and violet have been reported. The lights appear in many forms from patches or scattered clouds of light to streamers, arcs, rippling curtains or shooting rays that light up the sky with an eerie glow.

WHAT CAUSES THE NORTHERN LIGHTS?

The Northern Lights are actually the result of collisions between gaseous particles in the Earth's atmosphere with charged particles released from the sun's atmosphere. Variations in colour are due to the type of gas particles that are colliding.

The most common auroral color, a pale yellowish-green, is produced by oxygen molecules located about 60 miles above the earth. Rare, all-red auroras are produced by high-altitude oxygen, at heights of up to 200 miles. Nitrogen produces blue or purplish-red aurora.

Forecast: Temps moderate

Our weather picture pales in comparison to last night's aurora. Some spotty rain and snow showers today ride an inbound warm front. Then the next cool front drops south toward Minnesota for the weekend.

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NOAA

Temps moderate into the 50s tomorrow and Friday. The weekend looks chilly before another warm up next week.

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Weatherspark

I'm keeping an eye on the potential for some much needed rain and or snow, and possibly thunderstorms by next Tuesday into Wednesday.

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NOAA

Weather fingers crossed on this one. Stay tuned.