Red, green, yellow and purple colors flashed across Wyoming nighttime skies Sunday as the Northern Lights made a rare appearance.
Jacksonites joined people worldwide as they flocked outside to photograph the show, which was seen everywhere from Illinois to England.
According to Wyoming Stargazing’s executive director, Samuel Singer, it was the best local displays of lights in at least 15 years — and he’s seen several in the Jackson area.
“As your eyes adjust with the darkness, you start to see color,” Singer said. “And then the colors really pop.”
Heightened solar activity
For many locals, the Sunday viewing came as a surprise. The sightings, Singer said, come pretty sporadically in Wyoming.
“There’s no real pattern except that the prevalence of northern lights is related to the amount of solar activity happening on the sun,” he explained.
He said that activity is ramping up because of the current solar cycle. The sun is ejecting more particles into the earth’s atmosphere, which causes the light show.
The displays are hard to predict, but Singer said one thing is pretty certain: “Over the next few years, we can expect to have more and more displays of the northern lights.”
He added that it’s best to view the lights in dark places, such as Grand Teton National Park.
Teton County and Jackson are working to make local skis even darker, which could make it even easier to see these kinds of showings.
Both entities have passed ordinances restricting outdoor lighting, which produce light pollution that obscures stars and throws off human’s circadian rhythms.
The county, Singer said, could soon meet the requirements of the International Dark-Sky Association, which has designated over 200 locations “dark sky places” across the world.
Singer said Teton County could become the first county nationwide to become a dark sky community, but this won’t happen without the town of Jackson’s help.
“Most of the light within Teton County comes from Jackson,” Singer said.
In order to become compliant, the town would have to commit to replacing unshielded lights, such as the ones on Broadway Avenue.
Wyoming Stargazing will be conducting an inventory of lighting in Teton County and determining replacement costs this summer.
Singer said Teton County could apply for dark sky status by the end of the year.