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The northern lights visible from Mountain High in Wrightwood  lighting up the sky across Southern California (Photo courtesy Mark Girardeau/Orange County Outdoors)
The northern lights visible from Mountain High in Wrightwood lighting up the sky across Southern California (Photo courtesy Mark Girardeau/Orange County Outdoors)
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Viewing the northern lights is a bucket-list life experience, a magical sight people travel to far, remote parts of the world to get a glimpse of — and even then, everything needs to line up just right.

Some lucky people who were up in early-morning hours throughout Southern California got to witness the rare visual of  Aurora Borealis turning the sky a bright pink for just a few hours, a green glow dancing just above the skyline’s horizon.

“This is absolutely unprecedented to see this in Southern California,” wrote on a post shared around 1 a.m. Saturday from near Mountain High from a spot that looks over the Southern California region, lights twinkling under the sky. “It’s viewable as far south as San Diego and Mexico. It would be visible from Orange County if it weren’t for the clouds.”

Working on a hunch the northern lights would show in Southern California, Girardeau was joined by a handful of other dedicated photographers including Huntington Beach lensman Royce Hutain and Torrance photog Patrick Coyne, who stayed up until early-morning hours and ventured to Wrightwood’s high altitude with their camera gear ready to get the capture of a lifetime.

Social media on Saturday was also filled with images and videos of colorful skies viewed from such sites at Mt. Wilson and Castaic.

The Space Weather Prediction Center, based in Boulder, Colorado, put out a Geomagnetic Storm Watch for May 11 throughout the United States and beyond, and by early morning, reports on social media were shared from across the country.

The coronal mass ejection is an eruption of solar material, according to the prediction center.

“When they arrive at Earth, a geomagnetic storm can result,” it reads. “Watches at this level are very rare.”

The CMEs were anticipated to merge and arrive at Earth by late on May 10 or early on May 11, the center predicted, noting the aurora may become visible over much of the northern half of the country, and maybe as far south as Alabama to northern California.

  • Huntington Beach photographer Royce Hutain captured this image from Mountain...

    Huntington Beach photographer Royce Hutain captured this image from Mountain High in Wrightwood as northern lights appeared in the sky over Southern California. (Photo courtesy of Hutain)

  • Northern lights visible from Mountain High in Wrightwood, California, turning...

    Northern lights visible from Mountain High in Wrightwood, California, turning the sky pink over the skyline during the rare phenomenon.(Photo courtesy of Patrick Coyne)

  • Northern lights visible from Mountain High in Wrightwood, California, turning...

    Northern lights visible from Mountain High in Wrightwood, California, turning the sky pink over the skyline during the rare phenomenon. (Photo courtesy of Patrick Coyne)

  • The northern lights visible from Mountain High in Wrightwood lighting...

    The northern lights visible from Mountain High in Wrightwood lighting up the sky across Southern California. (Photo courtesy Mark Girardeau/Orange County Outdoors)

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A strong solar storm last year lit up the sky in Northern California, with reports from Mammoth Mountain and Shasta Lake and beyond. But it’s unknown if the lights have ever been visible in Southern California before now.

Hutain selected the location to try and document the rare sight, the photographers knowing they would need to be away from light pollution. But they said they couldn’t believe what they saw in the sky.

“I was expecting to maybe faintly see something on the horizon at best and when I saw light up half the sky, I couldn’t believe my eyes,” Hutain said. “Never did I think I’d see it that bright in Southern California.”

The Solar geomagnatic storm triggered Northern Lights over parts of Southern California this morning (as seen from Castaic). Photo: RMG ɫ̳
The Solar geomagnatic storm triggered Northern Lights over parts of Southern California this morning (as seen from Castaic). Photo: RMG ɫ̳

According to news reports, the University of Alaska detailed an extreme aurora event in 1958 that showed northern lights visible as far as Mexico City. The latest event is the first time a storm watch has been issued by NOAA for a G4 since January 2005, according to reports.

The photographers are no strangers to pulling all-nighters to document rare phenomena, putting in hundreds of hours seeking out bioluminence that make the ocean glow the past few years and other phenomena like the “fire falls” in Yosemite.

It had been all over the news that there was going to be a big storm that could potentially show the northern lights locally, “but I don’t think any of us realized how much we would see in Southern California,” Coyne said.

Hutain was also able to use the solar filter he bought for the recent eclipse to view and capture the burst on the sun’s surface.

“The experience was absolutely spectacular,” Coyne said. “I’ve always wanted to see the northern lights and would love to someday plan a trip around it — but I never dreamt of seeing the aurora in Southern California. It’s been something on my bucket list for a long period of time and last night felt like a dream come true. I got to spend time with great friends and see Mother Nature at its finest. We all liked to joke around and called it bioluminescence in the sky.”

 

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