Light pollution in dense urban centres usually obscures our nightly view of not only the cosmos but also the occasional powerful geomagnetic storm that produces a dancing light show. But this week was one of the rare exceptions.
Early Wednesday morning, local resident Tom McQuarrie spotted the Northern Lights hovering above the region’s North Shore mountains from downtown Vancouver’s Coal Harbour waterfront.
He told Vancity Buzz the green glowing lights peaked at about 1:30 a.m., although they were just barely visible to the naked eye.
Local photographer Brandon Tang photographed bright shots of the event from Pitt Lake, north of Pitt Meadows, while videographer Natasha Wheatley captured a time lapse of the lights over The Lions twin peaks from Cleveland Dam in North Vancouver.
The phenomenon rarely makes an appearance this far south, and such occasions are usually spurred by exceptionally strong coronal mass ejections from the sun. This occurred on Sunday when two massive solar flares were fired out of the sun’s surface to create the largest solar storm since 2013.
Last night’s event was a KP-8 event, meaning the Northern Lights could be seen as far south as North Carolina. The KP scale measures the southernmost edge of where the lights can be seen.
For Wednesday night and early Thursday morning, a weaker KP-5 storm is anticipated meaning the lights will likely not reach Metro Vancouver. A minimum KP-6 storm is required for the lights to make an appearance in Metro Vancouver.
However, there is still a chance it could make a return appearance over Whistler tonight.
When there is a powerful geomagnetic storm and the night skies are not obscured by cloud cover, Northern Lights enthusiasts should consider watching the possible displays from areas that in darkness or out of the city and away from the influence of light pollution.
For optimal viewing locations without leaving the Metro Vancouver region, consider watching the colourful displays from the westernmost edge of Spanish Banks in Vancouver, Porteau Cove on the Sea to Sky Highway, Grant Narrow Regional Park in Pitt Meadows, Cleveland Dam Field in North Vancouver, the northern face of Burnaby Mountain, Iona Beach Regional Park in Richmond, and vast areas of farmland in Delta and Tsawwassen.