#SolarStorm or Go outside and look up

Pamela L. Gay, Ph.D.
3 min readMay 11, 2024

If it is dark, and you live somewhere with dark skies….and you live somewhere North of the Mason-Dixie line, go outside right now AND LOOK UP.

There is a giant coronal mass ejection headed straight at us and NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center is predicting aurora as far south as maybe Alabama. I’m seeing reports of aurorae even from the Bahamas!

For those of you in Europe — If you’re in Europe, you are far enough North to see this storm.

Aurora as seen from Southern Illinois by me

Ok — outside? Here is a quick rundown of what might be happening.

As particles from the Sun hit the Earth’s atmosphere they travel along our planet’s magnetic field lines and as they travel they can interact with particles in our atmosphere, causing them to light up. The high up shades of Red come from the thin Oxygen, Green is emitted lower down — also by oxygen, but from places where there is more of it — and even lower down we can get Blue from Nitrogen.

All that color is coming from between 100–300 km above the Earth.

Why is this happening, you ask?

On Wednesday, May 8, ThirdRockAstronomy alerted me to Sunspot Complex 3364. Measuring 15 Earth-widths across, this darker-looking spot shows us where the Sun’s magnetic field lines are poking out through its surface, potentially waiting to…



Pamela L. Gay, Ph.D.

Astronomer, technologist, & creative focused on using new media to engage people in learning and doing science. Opinions & typos my own.