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The latest on the massive solar storm

What we covered here

  • A series of solar flares and coronal mass ejections have created dazzling auroras that may be seen as far south as Alabama and Northern California — but could also disrupt communications on Earth over the weekend.
  • Increased solar activity causes auroras that dance around Earth’s poles, known as the northern lights (aurora borealis) and southern lights (aurora australis). When the energized particles reach Earth’s magnetic field, they interact with gases in the atmosphere to light up the sky with different colors.
  • Though forecasters are working with operators to minimize the impact, the storm could affect the power grid as well as satellite and high-frequency radio communications. The Biden administration is monitoring the possibility of impacts, a White House official said.
Our live coverage has concluded. Please scroll through the posts below for the latest on the solar storm.
2:46 a.m. ET, May 11, 2024

Incredible lighthouse picture from Maine

A long-exposure photo shows the aurora borealis over Portland, Maine, on May 10. Courtesy Benjamin Williamson

Among a flurry of surreal images capturing the dazzling auroras is one taken by Benjamin Williamson of a lighthouse in Portland, Maine.

"It's one of the most incredible things I've ever seen, the awe and wonder," Williamson told CNN.

He said he used a long-exposure technique to snap the shot, but did not edit it.

Watch the full interview with Williamson here.
12:26 a.m. ET, May 11, 2024

Things could be about to ramp up

If you still haven't seen the aurora, hold on for another 30 minutes to an hour, according to CNN meteorologist Chad Myers.

The next wave of coronal mass ejections, or CMEs, which cause the aurora, is about to arrive, he said.

"Just wait a minute because things are going to start to ramp up here," he said, adding that the increase could arrive "anytime now."
"When it comes, get outside, get ready, put your coat on."

For those who are too busy to witness the phenomenon tonight, Myers said the aurora is expected to last three nights.

12:03 a.m. ET, May 11, 2024

Why does the aurora last for a weekend?

The northern lights can be seen from Eaton Rapids, Michigan, on May 10. Courtesy Adam Gumbrecht

Generally, it takes just eight minutes for light to travel 93 million miles to the Earth from the sun, but astrophysicist Janna Levin said the energized particles causing the current wave of aurora travel a lot slower, causing the phenomenon to last for the weekend.

"Some of these mass ejections are trillions of kilograms," she said. "They're slower. So they're taking longer, but still hours, maybe tens of hours."

11:58 p.m. ET, May 10, 2024

Here's how the solar storm looks in the South and on the East Coast

The aurora was visible across the East Coast and in the South Friday.

Here's how it looked in Chester, South Carolina.

Down in Florida, waves of color swam through the sky.

Up north in New Jersey, a purple-ish haze could be seen in the sky.

12:38 a.m. ET, May 11, 2024

Will solar storms get more intense and risky in the future?

The answer is probably not in the short term, according to astrophysicist Hakeem Oluseyi.

He said scientists study what is constantly happening on the surface of the sun and have found a pattern.

“Geological data shows us that in the past the sun was way more active than it is today. It has cycles where it goes very quiet ... and you have events that show that the solar activity was much, much greater,” he told CNN. “So there's no evidence that we're going to see those big maxima this cycle." 

But the astrophysicist also spoke of a caveat - the limitations of modern science.

“Even though it's predictable in the short term, we still don't quite understand what creates the magnetic fields in the sun,” he said, adding: “That's why NASA has so many satellites looking at the sun.”

11:03 p.m. ET, May 10, 2024

In Pictures: Auroras light the sky during rare solar storm

The northern lights glow in the night sky in Brandenburg, Germany, on May 10. Patrick Pleul/picture alliance/Getty Images

A series of solar flares and coronal mass ejections from the sun are creating dazzling auroras across the globe.

The rare solar storm may also disrupt communications. The last time a solar storm of this magnitude reached Earth was in October 2003, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Space Weather Prediction Center.

See more photos of the aurora from tonight.
11:31 p.m. ET, May 10, 2024

Behind dazzling aurora could lie “real danger,” Bill Nye the Science Guy says

Bill Nye the Science Guy speaks to CNN on Friday, May 10. CNN
The massive solar storm could present “a real danger,” especially with the modern world relying so much on electricity, according to Bill Nye the Science Guy, a science educator and engineer.

Scientists are warning an increase in solar flares and coronal mass ejections from the sun have the potential to disrupt communication on Earth into the weekend. Solar flares can affect communications and GPS almost immediately because they disrupt Earth’s ionosphere, or part of the upper atmosphere. Energetic particles released by the sun can also disrupt electronics on spacecraft and affect astronauts without proper protection within 20 minutes to several hours.

In comparison to tonight's event, Nye drew comparisons with another incident in 1859, known as the Carrington Event, when telegraph communications were severely affected.

“The other thing, everybody, that is a real danger to our technological society, different from 1859, is how much we depend on electricity and our electronics and so on,” Nye said. "None of us really in the developed world could go very long without electricity."

He noted that there are systems in place to minimize the impact, but “stuff might go wrong,” stressing that not all transformers are equipped to withstand such a solar event.

“It depends on the strength of the event and it depends on how much of our infrastructures are prepared for this the sort of thing,” he said.

This post has been updated with more details on solar flares' impact on electronics.
10:58 p.m. ET, May 10, 2024

Here's where clouds will block the view of the northern lights in the US

An infrared satellite image taken around 10:30 p.m. ET. (NOAA)

After an incredibly stormy week, most of the Lower 48 has clear skies to see the northern lights. But there are some areas where clouds and rainy weather are spoiling the view.

A deck of clouds is blocking the sky in the Northeast, from parts of Virginia into Maine, as an area of low pressure spins off the East Coast.

In the Midwest, the aurora will be hard to see through thick clouds in parts of Wisconsin, Michigan — including the Upper Peninsula — and Illinois.

A stripe of clouds is tracking across Texas, including Dallas-Forth Worth, and into Louisiana.

And in the Southwest, patchy clouds across the the Four Corners region could make the northern lights difficult to spot.

10:38 p.m. ET, May 10, 2024

Aurora seen at least as far south as Georgia

Barely visible to the naked eye, the aurora can be seen in Atlanta in the 10 p.m. ET hour. 

It is easier to see through photographs using a long exposure. The photos below, taken by CNN's Eric Zerkel and Emily Smith, used 3- and 10-second exposures.

Aurora seen in Atlanta around 10:15 p.m. ET. (Eric Zerkel/CNN)

Aurora seen in Atlanta area around 10:30 p.m. ET. (Emily Smith/CNN)

Aurora seen in Atlanta area around 10:30 p.m. ET. (Emily Smith/CNN)