Illinoisans delight in seeing the northern lights — a rare sight this far south

The lights were visible Sunday in certain parts of the state.

SHARE Illinoisans delight in seeing the northern lights — a rare sight this far south
An image of the northern lights seen Sunday in Elgin.

An image of the northern lights seen Sunday in Elgin.

Courtesy of Scottie Bloomer

To really see the lights — the ones that look like a psychedelic dream in the heavens — tourists are often lured to the ends of the earth, to places like Greenland or Svalbard.

A trip to see the northern lights is something people put on their bucket lists. But on Sunday, if you were looking up at night in much of Illinois, you might well have spied a curtain in spectral green or purple draped across the sky.

“To see them at the end of my driveway was incredible. It was fascinating and stunning, exhilarating,” gushed Scottie Bloomer, 43, who lives in Elgin.

Bloomer captured the lights with his cellphone about 11:20 p.m., he said.

Bloomer, a professional photographer who’d never before seen the northern lights, belongs to a Facebook group called Illinois Storm Chasers. The page is covered with ecstatic posts from people in Illinois towns that included Galesburg, Bloomington, Princeton and Hampshire.

An image of the northern lights seen Sunday in Elgin.

An image of the northern lights seen Sunday in Elgin.

Courtesy of Scottie Bloomer

What causes nature’s spectacular light display?

“Material is blasted out from the sun. That material interacts with the Earth’s magnetic field, and then charged particles ... that are in the Earth’s magnetic field are then jostled and streamed down toward the North and South pole ... . Those particles collide with gases in the Earth’s upper atmosphere and those gases glow,” said Michelle Nichols, director of public viewing at Adler Planetarium.

An image of the northern lights seen Sunday in Elgin.

An image of the northern lights seen Sunday in Elgin.

Courtesy of Scottie Bloomer

But why don’t we see the lights more often in Illinois?

The blast from the sun, called a “coronal mass ejection,” has to be particularly strong for that to happen, Nichols said.

And they’re harder to see in big cities like Chicago because of all of the artificial light.

Nichols said she hadn’t personally seen the lights from the city in about 20 years. When might be the next display? It’s not something you can easily predict.

“At most, you might have a day or two days’ notice — maybe three,” she said.

The good thing is that you don’t need sophisticated equipment to capture an image of the lights.

“You had to have a really good camera 20 years ago to take a picture of an aurora. And now, practically everybody’s phone can handle taking a pretty decent picture,” Nichols said.

An image of the northern lights seen Sunday in Elgin.

An image of the northern lights seen Sunday in Elgin.

Courtesy of Scottie Bloomer

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