Northern Lights in Vancouver Friday & Saturday Night

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Last night nature put on a show with a G5 geomagnetic storm casting a wide array of Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) across Metro Vancouver, and many other parts of the world. Even downtown, where the light pollution is greatest, we still got to see the purples and greens of this celestial event.

Friday Night Photos | Saturday Night Info
Phone Photo Tips

Northern Lights Aurora Borealis Vancouver - Miss604 Photo
The aurora over Coal Harbour in Downtown Vancouver – Miss604 photo

The solar storm prompted NOAA to issue a severe geomagnetic storm watch, the first watch of its kind to be issued in almost 20 years, with the last being triggered in 2005. We were seeing photos online from London, South Carolina, Alabama, and beyond.

As far as solar storms go, this is the most severe on the NOAA Space Weather Scale which ranks them G1-G5. The description is “Extreme” and effects could be:

  • Power systems: Widespread voltage control problems and protective system problems can occur, some grid systems may experience complete collapse or blackouts. Transformers may experience damage.
  • Spacecraft operations: May experience extensive surface charging, problems with orientation, uplink/downlink and tracking satellites.
  • Other systems: Pipeline currents can reach hundreds of amps, HF (high frequency) radio propagation may be impossible in many areas for one to two days, satellite navigation may be degraded for days, low-frequency radio navigation can be out for hours, and aurora has been seen as low as Florida and southern Texas (typically 40° geomagnetic lat.).

Northern Lights in Vancouver Friday Night Photos

Usually, we’d have to head out to where there is little light pollution, such as the Dark Sky Park in Abbotsford, at Iona Beach, Burnaby Mountain, or Porteau Cove up the Sea to Sky. In previous years, some dedicated aurora photographers have snapped some streaks from Spanish Banks. Last night, however, they. were. everywhere. You didn’t even need to look to the north, there was a colourful dome on top of the city.

NOAA Space Weather Scale G5

Can We See Them Saturday Night Too?

Maybe! The NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center is reporting that the extreme geomagnetic storm continues and will persist through at least Sunday. If it’s similar to Friday night, you’ll see the most activity around 11:30pm once darkness has fully set in.

Check the latest Aurora Viewline Forecast »

Update: As of 9:30pm Saturday, the NWS Seattle says the Kp index was 7 (lower than Friday’s 9 which was full of colour) but it will go back up to 9 around 2:00am-5:00am Sunday, May 12th. However, the NOAA aurora forecast doesn’t look the best for Vancouver now even during that window.

Northern Lights/Aurora Borealis in Downtown Vancouver
Northern Lights/Aurora Borealis in Downtown Vancouver

Many people heading up a mountain (even a Little Mountain in QE Park) or over to the beach will contend with traffic so try to take transit, walk, or cycle if you can to avoid the crowds on the roads.

Photo Tips

I haven’t picked up my DSLR in years and all of my photos posted on social media are from my iPhone. Here are some tips, and what I did to get these shots from Downtown:

  1. Check the Light Pollution Map to find a dark(ish) spot you can get to when the skies are clear (like they will be in Metro Vancouver Saturday night).
  2. If you’re discouraged that you don’t see the aurora in the sky with your naked eye – don’t be! Pick up your phone or camera anyway and just snap away capturing the sky. I did this last night and once I got home to review, that’s when I saw the lights in detail.
  3. Long exposure is key so let the most light into your photo. Not by using a flash, but by exposing the shot to what you want to capture for the longest time possible. Use Night Mode, especially if you can control the exposure time.
  4. Stay still or use a tripod. Since you’re setting the exposure for longer, the slightest movement could blur the image. If you don’t have a tripod, use a shoe (I’m not kidding) or anything else to anchor the camera in place when you take the photo.
  5. Bonus: If you have iPhone, try taking a few in Live Photo mode then afterwards select the option for Long Exposure and see what you get! You can also turn those into GIFs if you set to Loop or Bounce.

Some of the popular spots might be very busy with traffic again so plan ahead, and be safe out there. Have fun and enjoy this spectacular, and historic, event!

Read more: Events in Vancouver This Weekend

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