How did we get lucky enough to see the Northern Lights in the Inland Northwest?

SPOKANE, Wash. — The aurora borealis — or the Northern Lights — lit up the sky on Monday night. It is rare to see it far south of the Canadian border. When it does happen, it is a sight you do not want to miss.

“This one last night was probably the best that I have seen in the number of times I’ve gone out,” said Myk Crawford, who caught the lights on camera.

Crawford spent four hours taking photos and videos in Rocklyn where it was pitch black.

“You’re looking for a place that’s away from the city lights that you can have a clear view to the north that’s low on the horizon,” he said.

The photographer has seen the lights before, but it is rare to see it this clearly in the Inland Northwest.

So, why did we?

“There was a big explosion on the sun last Saturday, several days ago, and that trigged what’s called a coronal mass ejection,” said John Whitmer, an astronomy instructor at Spokane Falls Community College. “There was no doubt it was going to hit earth because it was directed right at us.”

The particles cause an overload of the magnetic field. Because of how strong the solar storm was, particles made it to the Earth’s atmosphere, triggering the aurora.

It could happen more often as the sun is very active right now, but we will not know when exactly.

“The times that we see a moderate solar storm event will be about 300-400 days every 11 years, so not rare, but not as often as you think,” said Charlotte Dewey, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Spokane.

The storm’s strength is rated on a scale of one to five — with five being the highest.

“We had a G2 storm, which is moderate,” Dewey said. “Not real strong, but that’s why it came a little farther south.”

Clear skies made it visible to the naked eye, which helped Crawford and other people around the country capture the incredible photos.

“There’s that challenge of the unknown and also just trying to capture something that is very unique and doesn’t happen very often. That’s what does it for me,” he explained.

Crawford says a professional camera will give you some great photos. If you have one, he suggests putting everything on manual. Set the aperture to the lowest and put the shutter speed to 10-15 seconds. Your ISO should be dialed into 2,000 to 5,000.

While Kris Crocker says we likely will not see them again on Tuesday night because of the clouds, the NWS says we could see more in the next couple of years.

“We had great luck,” Whitmer said. “I hope a lot of people got to see it. It was pretty cool.”

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