Northern lights flash over Jackson Hole

Locals witnessed a rare, colorful show Sunday night, and there could be more to come as solar activity ramps up.
The northern lights, also known as the aurora borealis, seen over the Tetons. (Courtesy of Rachel Cohn)

by | Apr 24, 2023 | Environment

 

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.”

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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.

Across the Tetons residents captured the northern lights in the sky Sunday night. (Courtesy of Rachel Cohn, Sam Strauss and Andrew Munz)

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.

Dark skies

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.

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About Hanna Merzbach

Hanna is KHOL's senior reporter and managing editor. A lot of her work focuses on housing and local politics, but also women's health — and whatever else she finds interesting. You can hear her reporting around the country and region on NPR, Wyoming Public Radio and community radio stations around the west. She hails from Bend, Oregon, where she reported for outlets such as the Atlantic, High Country News and Oregon Public Broadcasting. In her free time, you can find Hanna scaling rock walls or adventuring in the mountains.

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