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Photos show the Northern Lights made a rare appearance as far south as Phoenix, Arizona on Friday morning

By Marianne Guenot,Morgan McFall-Johnsen,Jessica Orwig,

Auroras in Gaylor, Missouri, on March 24, 2023.

Dazzling Northern Lights surprised people across the US overnight when they made a rare appearance in temperate skies.

The colorful, dancing lights are also known as the aurora borealis. They normally occur in the Arctic, but powerful eruptions on the sun caused them to stretch as far south as Phoenix, Arizona before sunrise on Friday, according to images shared by photographers and skywatchers on social media.

The aurora occurs when electrically charged particles stream from the sun and wash over Earth. Our planet's magnetic field channels that "solar wind" to the poles, where the particles interact with molecules in our atmosphere to produce beautiful ribbons of green, pink, purple, and red light.

The National Weather Service had anticipated heightened aurora activity on Friday, possibly as far south as Washington and New York, due to a high-powered solar wind streaming toward our planet from a giant "hole" on the sun , called a coronal hole.
A video from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory shows the massive hole in the sun's atmosphere.

But new, more powerful, eruptions on the sun, called coronal mass ejections (CME), supercharged the solar wind to cause "a severe disturbance in Earth's magnetic field," NWS reported .

It was "a perfect storm," Alex Young, the associate director for science at NASA Goddard's Heliophysics Science Division, told Insider.

As a result, the aurora blew past the forecasts, lighting up the skies in brilliant colors as far south as Missouri, California, Wisconsin, and even Arizona.

Near Phoenix, Arizona
The aurora on the horizon near Butcher Jones Recreation Area, just east of Phoenix, Arizona.

"It was a pretty surreal experience watching the aurora in the Sonoran Desert," John Sirlin, who captured the above photo, told Insider. "It was only visible as a faint pink glow at first but when the pillars started dancing, it was definitely visible to the naked eye. It was brief but stunningly beautiful."

This may be the furthest-south sighting from Friday's aurora events.

"Most people when they're seeing that far south... they're seeing it on the horizon," Young said.

Gaylor, Missouri
Northern lights could be seen above the National Weather service office in Gaylor, Missouri.
Auroras in La Crosse, Wisconsin on March 24, 2023.

Between New York City's John F Kennedy airport and Minneapolis−Saint Paul airport

Topeka, Kansas

La Crosse, Wisconsin

Auroras in La Crosse, Wisconsin on March 24, 2023.

Anchorage, Alaska
Auroras in Anchorage, Alaska, on March 24, 2023.

Fairfax, Alaska
Auroras in Fairbanks, Alaska, on March 24, 2023.

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