Changing Planet

Aurora Sky Show Hit and Miss

Aurora borealis in Norway. Photograph by Arild Heitmann, National Geographic Your Shot

Hopes were high on Thursday night for skies painted with northern lights. But it was more of a hit or miss sky event, depending on where folks looked.

Sky-watchers in the continental U.S., where these sky shows are seldom seen, were hoping to get a glimpse of the aurora borealis this week after the sun unleashed a massive cloud of charged particles toward Earth on January 7.

When such outbursts slam into our planet’s protective magnetic field, their particles funnel down into the atmosphere above the polar regions, where they spark northern lights. This week’s strong solar storm was expected to trigger a sky show that stretched farther south than usual, appearing in skies over big parts of North America and Europe.

However, according to the latest from NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center, the storm’s impact was weaker than expected, and it failed to produce the widespread geomagnetic fireworks that many were anticipating.  And sky-watchers’ frustration was evident on social media.



Others tried to stay hopeful…

@DaciaTryonDP chimed in, “Went Aurora hunting last night and saw… nothing. #AuroraBorealis you haven’t seen the end of me, we will meet someday.”

@DesignDiva_6h took a more philosophical approach, “Ah well, the randomness of it makes it so exciting! If it was predictable there would be no mystery 🙂 #aurora

The timing of the storm, however, appears to have definitely favored Northern Europe. As a result the brightest, most stunning auroras were witnessed around the Arctic Circle and in places like Ireland,  Norway, Alaska, and the Northwest Territories in Canada.




“It was dark in Norway when the CME [coronal mass ejection] arrived, so observers there witnessed a nice display. By the time night fell over North America, however, the lights had faded. U.S. observers saw nothing remarkable,” according to online statements on

What went wrong with the prediction?

While it initially appeared that a large auroral display would grace our skies, further analysis of space weather data showed that Mother Nature had her own plans. A blast of solar wind from a coronal hole might have actually shoved the Earth-directed solar storm off course, resulting in our planet receiving only a glancing blow, instead of a full blast of space weather.

Follow Andrew Fazekas, the Night Sky Guy, on Twitter and Facebook.

Andrew Fazekas, aka The Night Sky Guy, is a science writer, broadcaster, and lecturer who loves to share his passion for the wonders of the universe through all media. He is a regular contributor to National Geographic News and is the national cosmic correspondent for Canada’s Weather Network TV channel, space columnist for CBC Radio network, and a consultant for the Canadian Space Agency. As a member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Andrew has been observing the heavens from Montreal for over a quarter century and has never met a clear night sky he didn’t like.
  • Dwayne LaGrou

    Well the solar cycle is still bound to surprise us, We all just need to be patient and keep those cameras loaded and ready. Mother Nature has a way of giving us what we want, Just not on our schedule. In the mean time, Keep uploading those great pix Norway and Ireland and of course The Yukon!!!

  • Elena williams

    Sadly, we were socked in by clouds.

  • Jan Wiechowski

    Especially this has never been interested, but the views are just amazing, if you do not see it does not believe …

  • Nat Turner

    Sights previously reserved for snowmen,
    impressive what electricity can do.

  • BOB

    i am loving this story

  • Jake

    excellent photographs. miss the lights

  • Anacaren

    I love aurora lights,they are fantastic!!!THX TECHNOLOGY!!!

About the Blog

Researchers, conservationists, and others share stories, insights and ideas about Our Changing Planet, Wildlife & Wild Spaces, and The Human Journey. More than 50,000 comments have been added to 10,000 posts. Explore the list alongside to dive deeper into some of the most popular categories of the National Geographic Society’s conversation platform Voices.

Opinions are those of the blogger and/or the blogger’s organization, and not necessarily those of the National Geographic Society. Posters of blogs and comments are required to observe National Geographic’s community rules and other terms of service.

Voices director: David Braun (

Social Media