Northern Lights Were Seen as Far South as California Last Night After 'Cannibal' CME

A solar storm led to gorgeous views of the northern lights, including views in the northern US.

northern lights photos november 2021
Diana Robinson Photography/Moment/Getty Images

Seeing the northern lights is magical. It sounds cheesy, but it's true. It's the reason there are entire vacation packages geared toward trying to see them and why there are people who chase them over and over and over. 

In most instances, you're going to need to travel to the northern reaches of the globe to see them. Alaska. Sweden. Iceland. Russia. If you're lucky, you've caught them in the Northern US after a fairly significant solar event. However, the night of November 3, the aurora borealis "spread almost to Los Angeles," according to spaceweather.com, which shared photos from aurora chaser Hongming Zheng in Lincoln, California, just north of Sacramento.

This delightful sight was the result of a series of solar outbursts that started on November 1. "The sun has produced several coronal mass ejections (CMEs), which are bubbles of hot gas and magnetic field; while such activity can come from any part of the sun, the current examples have headed out into space toward Earth, making them of particular interest to humans," says Space.com. Some have called the latter of these CMEs a "cannibal CME" as it overtook earlier ones as they raced toward Earth.

The result was people around the globe getting an impressive view of the northern lights. That included it being seen much further south than it is generally seen and impressive displays at northern latitudes with pink glow amidst the familiar green aura. 

It was even strong enough to be visible at sunrise in Absiko, Sweden, per Spaceweather.com. Aurora photographer Oliver Wright, who previously offered tips on photographing Comet Neowise to Thrillist, told the site, "I woke up just after 5 am, and I could see auroras through my bedroom window. So, quick coffee and headed down to the bridge over the Abisko canyon. I was watching purple auroras getting washed out by the nautical sunrise. I've only ever seen that once before during the Saint Patrick Day geomagnetic storm of 2015."

The storm is still underway at the time of publication, with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) posting a G2 watch that is in effect from 5-8 pm ET the night of November 4. "If these conditions persist," writes Spaceweather.com, "observers in Scandinavia, Iceland, Canada, and maybe even northern-tier US states can expect to see auroras after nightfall on November 4."

As always, though, it's difficult to predict when you'll see the northern lights. The latest CME produced wowing displays, but a similar forecast last week failed to produce aurora sightings as far south as was forecast to be possible.

Ready to go stargazing?

Here are all the best stargazing events that you can get out and see this month or you could stay in a stream the northern lights from home. If you're just getting started, check out our guide to astronomy for beginners or easy stargazing road trips from big US cities

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Dustin Nelson is a Senior Staff Writer at Thrillist. Follow Dustin Nelson on Twitter.