Parts of the Lower Mainland received a rare treat earlier this week with the appearance of the northern lights, something one North Shore resident was able to catch on film.
The lights, usually associated with more northern regions, were visible late Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning in areas around Vancouver including Cleveland Dam, where North Vancouver resident and photographer Natasha Wheatley caught the phenomenon on film. Wheatley, who has taken pictures of the lights before on the Lower Mainland, said the occurrence happens here more than most think. She recalls the last time the lights were visible in the Vancouver area was in September of last year.
“It’s fairly frequent. We can get them here at least two or three times a year.”
She said the recent occurrence of a solar storm, which is caused by eruptions of energy from the sun’s surface reacting with atmospheric gasses, had to do with the lights being visible late Tuesday and early Wednesday.
“The reason we saw it this far down is that there was a big solar storm around four or five days ago, the biggest one we’ve had this year,” she said Thursday.
Wheatley said she monitors the night skies on social media and is always ready to venture into the dark with her camera when word comes that the lights will be visible. “Whenever there’s a big solar storm I’m aware of it. I have apps. My social media news feed is full of aurora forecasting type forums,” she explained.
Wheatley said the lights started around 11:30 p.m. and continued on until about 3 a.m. Wednesday morning. She said the cold and loneliness of being out there at night alone was worth the show the lights put on. “Your standing in the middle of nowhere in the dark with the northern lights just for you. That’s how I often feel . . . I feel quite lucky for that.”
Matt MacDonald, a meteorologist with Environment Canada said the phenomenon occurs when the sun emits a large release of energy known as a solar flare. “These travel through the atmosphere and as they encounter what’s called the ionosphere which is the outer limit of our atmosphere, the charged particles collide with different atoms.”
He explained the stronger the solar flare activity the more likely it will be visible farther south. However, MacDonald said the appearance of lights in a place like Vancouver is rare. “It’s relatively rare that we see them down in Vancouver due to just simply light pollution, the closer you are to a city. Obviously our nights aren’t as dark here. You need clear skies to be able to actually see these.”