SPOKANE VALLEY, Wash. — If you were lucky enough to be outside Monday night in Eastern Washington or North Idaho away from any bright city lights, you may have caught a glimpse of the Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights.
The Aurora is created when the energy from a solar flare emitted by our sun hits earth. One such flare hit earth Monday night, creating a rare spectacle that could be seen across much of the norther tier of the United States. The aurora was visible across the Inland Northwest thanks to clear skies overhead and relatively early nightfall this time of year.
The energy from the sun’s flare hits earth, exciting the atoms in the atmosphere. Oxygen is the most abundant element involved in the visible aurora. As the solar flare hits the atoms it excites the electron or negatively charged particle orbiting the positively charged proton of the atom. The energy or excitement causes the electron to orbit the proton at a greater distance from the center, but it can’t maintain that orbit forever.
As the electron settles back into equilibrium or its normal orbit of the proton it emits the energy from the larger orbit. The energy emitted gives off light. In the case of oxygen, that light is green. Greater amounts of energy can excite different molecules in different layers of the atmosphere giving off different colors.
Viewers across the Inland Northwest captured photos of the Northern Lights on Monday night and shared them with us through the "Near Me" feature on our KREM 2 mobile app. Find out how to share your photos with KREM 2 by clicking here.
According to Spokane's National Weather Service (NWS), people who missed Monday night's Northern Lights might have another chance on Tuesday. However, cloudy skies and cold weather could make it difficult to see.
Northern Lights spotted over the Inland Northwest