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Surprise solar storm set off gorgeous northern and southern lights Saturday night

Set on the backdrop of fog and a full moon, the Southern Lights glistened on Aug. 26 in Dunedin, New Zealand. (Video: Brad Phipps)

The solar wind sneaked through a “crack” in Earth’s magnetic field Saturday night, causing spectacular auroras in both the Northern and Southern hemispheres. Space weather forecasters were stunned by the spectacle.

The colorful hues of the northern lights (aurora borealis) danced across the sky in Canada, Michigan, New York, Montana, Wisconsin and Indiana, reported. It also logged reports of the southern lights (aurora australis) in New Zealand.

In the video shown above, even the full moon can’t dull the vibrancy of the southern light’s turquoise, green and yellow shades frolicking above the coastline of Dunedin, New Zealand.

In the Northern Hemisphere, the lights were  also seen in Europe and, according to Twitter, as far south as Colorado. “This is surely one for the record books! A #solar minimum #Sun sends #aurora as far south as Colorado!,” tweeted Tamitha Skov, a space weather expert.

The geomagnetic storm was rated 3 or “strong” on the 1 to 5 scale for these events by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“Forecasters did not see this coming,” wrote. A small wave of charged particles from the sun, known as a coronal mass ejection, first hit Earth on Friday but produced little effect. “The action began only after Earth entered the CME’s wake, where strong south-pointing magnetic fields opened a crack in our planet’s magnetosphere,” it explained.

“This storm illustrates the critical importance of the magnetic field; the earth’s magnetic field is so sensitive to the strength and direction of the field coming from the Sun,” added Joe Kunches, Capital Weather Gang’s space weather expert.

The surprise storm was a reminder that the sun can unleash powerful outbursts even during the solar minimum, its current phase.

“Solar Minimum or not, we have seen some seriously strong events in the last year,” tweeted Michael Cook, a space weather forecaster. “Think back to Sept 2017 when we had our strongest Solar Flares of the cycle and now this event.”

Kunches called the event a “courtesy call” from the sun, “a reminder that activity can happen most any time.”

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Below are views of the aurora, via Twitter: