Supercharged northern lights visible in parts of U.S. and Europe

Story highlights

  • A geomagnetic storm created a dramatic aurora borealis display Wednesday evening
  • Residents in parts of the United States and Europe captured photos of the vibrant lights dancing in the sky

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(CNN)Residents in parts of the United States and Europe were treated to an unexpected light show.

From Wednesday evening into early Thursday morning, the aurora borealis created a bright display of lights.
A geomagnetic storm produced the dazzling show, according to the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) .
    NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center issued an alert Wednesday that there would be a strong geomagnetic storm, a big disturbance of the Earth's magnetosphere. The conditions were expected to continue over the next 24 to 36 hours, meaning a supercharged northern lights display could be observed in certain regions on Earth.
    The geomagnetic storm was caused by the Sun's coronal holes, which are regions where the star's corona is dark. The high-speed solar wind comes from the coronal hole, according to NASA. This high-speed solar wind helps produce an intense northern lights display.
    Wednesday's storm brought the rare celestial event to places like the United Kingdom where people captured vibrant photos and videos of the colorful lights and shared them on social media.
    The dramatic display can also be attributed to activity happening on the sun's surface, according to the British Geological Survey. Large explosions on the sun's surface emit huge amounts of charged particles that pour into space and some make their way to Earth.
    Auroras form when charged particles from the solar winds enter Earth's magnetic field and travel to the planet's poles where the particles collide with atoms of gas in the atmosphere.
    The collision is what creates the vibrant light displays, which are typically seen in places around the Arctic Circle.
    Freelance photographer Chad Halvorson drove 30-miles north of Minneapolis, Minnesota, Wednesday to capture the northern lights.
    By the time he set up his camera he started to see a faint haze in the sky and thought that would be as bright as the northern lights would get that evening. But as the night wore on, the lights became stronger.
    "The northern lights were exploding," he told CNN. Halvorson stayed out for four hours to watch the show.
    "It truly is spectacular to see the lights dancing in the sky," he said.