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A Rare Showing of the Northern Lights Glowed in Montgomery Township's Night Sky

By Barbara A. Preston | May 13, 2024


Princeton University Professor Robert Vanderbei viewed and photographed a rare occurrence in Montgomery Township's night sky on Saturday, May 11.


As predicted by NASA and the U.S. National Weather Service station in Mount Holly, a geomagnetic storm caused the aurora borealis to become visible over much of the United States, at times as far south Alabama, west to northern California, and along the east coast in New Jersey. Montgomery Township residents who vigilantly watched the night skies overnight on May 10-11 were treated to a very rare viewing of the northern lights.

THE AURORA BOREALIS as viewed from Montfort Drive in Montgomery Township on May 11 at about 4:35 am. Photo by Robert Vanderbei of Belle Mead.


NASA called it "the strongest geomagnetic storm in over two decades." The display dazzled scientists and sky-watchers alike. The G5 storm culminated in a remarkable display of the aurora borealis overnight on May 10–11, visible from many areas worldwide, even where sightings of auroras are uncommon.


The auroras are dynamic, and different coverage and patterns of light would have been visible at different times of the night, according to NASA. Viewers on the ground saw colors from green (the most common) to purple to red. Atmospheric compounds found at different altitudes influence an aurora’s color.


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When will central New Jersey residents get to see the Northern Lights again?

Professor Vanderbei said, "The event that we got to see last weekend is over. These events are random. Another could happen soon. But, that would be very unlikely.


"The last time there was an aurora event kind of similar to the one last weekend was about 20 years ago. So, we might have to wait maybe weeks or months or years."


Vanderbei was lucky enough to witness the Northern Lights three times in his life.


"First when I was a kid back in the 1960s," he said. "I was in a car being driven somewhere by my dad in Grand Rapids Michigan, which is where I grew up. While he was driving we both saw an interesting reddish glow in the sky ahead of us and my dad said, “That’s the Northern Lights.”


"The second time was about 10 or 15 years ago here at my home in Belle Mead. I’ve spent a zillion hours outdoors with my telescope taking pics and one night I noticed some glow up in the sky.  It wasn’t dramatic, but I did see it. I ran in the house and woke up my wife, Kris, to see if she wanted to come outside to see it. She was too tired and stayed in bed.


"And, of course, the third time was just a week ago here at home in Belle Mead."


NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) had issued a Geomagnetic Storm Warning for Friday, May 10. NOAA space weather forecasters observed at least seven coronal mass ejections (CMEs) from the sun.


CMEs are explosions of plasma and magnetic fields from the sun’s corona. They cause geomagnetic storms when they are directed at Earth. Geomagnetic storms can impact infrastructure in near-Earth orbit and on Earth’s surface, potentially disrupting communications, the electric power grid, navigation, radio and satellite operations. SWPC has notified the operators of these systems so they could take protective action.


Geomagnetic storms storms can impact infrastructure in near-Earth orbit and on Earth’s surface, potentially disrupting communications, the electric power grid, navigation, radio and satellite operations," NOAA officials said on their website. "Space Weather Prediction Center has notified the operators of these systems so they can take protective action."

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