Northern Lights in France and exceptional solar storm 05/11/2024

Extremely turbulent space weather is currently affecting our planet, producing major geomagnetic disturbances and northern lights visible as far away as the tropics. A look back at this crazy night of May 10 to 11, 2024.

An exceptional solar storm

During the night of May 10 to 11, 2024, a solar storm struck the Earth causing an extreme geomagnetic storm. A class G storm has not been reached since October 2003, more than 20 years.

The SWPC page in turmoil over space weather conditions on May 11, 2024

These exceptional conditions are due to the presence of a particularly active and extensive solar spot which gave rise to several very high intensity eruptions (class X+) towards our planet. These eruptions caused high-speed coronal mass ejections (CMEs). Clearly visible on the satellites, they formed a complete ring around the coronagraph of the STEREO A satellite (ejection in the Sun – Satellite – Earth axis).

One of the CMEs that caused the extreme solar storm of May 10-11, 2024 – LASCO C2 satellite

Northern lights visible throughout mainland France

No need to live in the far north of the country to observe the northern lights during this storm. Its exceptional intensity made it possible to see them from everywhere, from North to South. Clearly visible to the naked eye, they will have been photographed by hundreds or even thousands of people in the middle of the night. These are very probably the most observed French Northern Lights of all time (large population and general public space weather forecast).

In the far north, a magical spectacle took over the sky, the draperies of the main auroral oval being at the zenith of these regions. A magnificent palette of colors took over the entire sky.

The Northern Lights in Avesnes-Sur-Helpe (59) by Guillaume LOUYS-JUPITER – Infoclimate

At the country’s mid-latitude, the Northern Lights presented a spectacular pillared arc. The auroral phenomena farthest from the Pole were still to the South, bathing the landscape in a reddish light.

The Northern Lights at La Tremblade (17) by Florian BIGAND – Infoclimate

The South was at the limit of the Northern Lights, at the level of the SAR arc. Large draperies were visible from northwest to northeast, with a red glow filling half the sky. Over the southern half of the sky, the sky remained black.

Northern horizon filled with northern lights at Mont Saint Baudille (34) by Baptiste MONTERROSO – Infoclimate

If the phenomenon was obviously more impressive without any light pollution, the big cities also had the right to the spectacle. Thus, it was possible to see the Northern Lights with the naked eye from the center of Paris, and to photograph it with a simple phone!

Aurora borealis photographed in Paris, for meteo-paris.com

Why were the Northern Lights so visible in France?

– An exceptional geomagnetic storm affected France. Simplistically, it is possible to summarize the chances of seeing the Northern Lights at Kp. A Kp of 7-8 will result in the Northern Lights clearly visible only on cameras. A Kp of 9 will make them easily visible to the naked eye. Thus, Pictures Northern lights in France are relatively common (several times a year during peaks of solar activity). A Kp 9 on the other hand only happens 1 to 2 times per peak of solar activity… every 11 years!

Kp estimated in steps of 3 hours, the first two peaks at 9 occurred during the night in France -SWPC

– The weather conditions were ideal. Indeed, a vast anticyclonic zone was present over France, giving calm, clear and dry weather across the entire country. Indeed, even the simple fact of humid air can hinder observation (atmospheric absorption).

– It was dark! Yes, this parameter is alone responsible for excluding one in two occurrences of the appearance of the Northern Lights in France… Especially in summer when the days are longer.

– A moonless night. The Moon only showed a very thin crescent at the start of the night. Its lighting did not disturb the observations.

These northern lights will have been visible as far as Florida, near the Tropic of Cancer! The exceptional nature of this storm is decidedly exceptional.

Aurora against the backdrop of the Cuban Palm Tree in Florida – Spaceweathergallery

Several types of northern lights observed in France

The Northern Lights are a much more complex phenomenon than they seem. The vision of people who are often amazed by this phenomenon cannot be reduced to simple draperies. Here is a small anthology of what it was possible to observe during this night of May 10 to 11, 2024 in Provence.

Polar lights similar to those usually observed below the polar circle.

Polar aurora, night of May 10 to 11, 2024 in Provence – Jérémie GAILLARD forecaster for MétéoVilles

Proton auroras. As their name suggests, this type of auroras is formed by the arrival of protons in the atmosphere. These are manifested by the appearance of green globular spots with a short lifespan (10-20s on average), very bright.

Proton aurora (green spot in the center), night of May 10 to 11, 2024 in Provence – Jérémie GAILLARD forecaster for MétéoVilles

The SAR Arc (Stable Auroral Red arc) is a red arc present south of the main auroral oval, it is formed by electrons trapped near the equator and redirected towards mid-latitudes during major solar storms.

SAR arc located vertically (South-West view), night of May 10 to 11, 2024 in Provence – Jérémie GAILLARD forecaster for MétéoVilles

Difference between SAR arc and polar auroras (main auroral oval) – MeteoVIlles

The STEVE (Strong Thermal Emission Velocity Enhancement) is a phenomenon also external to the polar auroras, occurring at the level of the SAR arc. These would be ribbons of hot plasma forming pillars or draperies similar to the auroras (scientific research in progress).

STEVE (light pillar in the foreground) developing in the SAR arc, night of May 10 to 11, 2024 in Provence – Jérémie GAILLARD forecaster for MétéoVilles

STEVE (light pillars in the foreground) developing in the SAR arc. The polar auroras are in the background, much further away, night of May 10 to 11, 2024 in Provence – Jérémie GAILLARD forecaster for MétéoVilles

Towards new Northern Lights in France in the coming days?

New Northern Lights are expected to occur following the remnants of the May 10-11 storm, and new Class X solar flares observed during the day. However, there are currently no signs of such a strong storm. The Kp should not exceed 7 during the next few days so the northern lights will be limited to camera sensors or even very occasionally in the form of a vague glow in the North.

Kp forecast for the next 3 days. If storms are still forecast, we will be far from the G5 – Aurora-Maniacs

Jérémie GAILLARD – Forecaster for MétéoCilles

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