Rosso Di Sera: The Northern Lights Over Italy

The skies lit up in shades of pink and red in a rare display of the aurora borealis.

Northern Lights
Northern Lights. Photo: Vincent Guth on Unsplash.

On the night between the 5th and 6th of November, the skies over the north of Italy lit up in shades of pink and red. The surreal scene looked like something out of a fantasy film, but was in fact an entirely natural (if not a bit unusual for the geography) phenomenon: the aurora borealis, or the Northern Lights.

It was also reportedly seen in Russia, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, and Slovenia, with people sharing photos on social media to comments of awe and fear—the sky is not falling, Chicken Little, tranquillo.

So how could it appear so low in continental Europe? Aurora is only ever seen in the north and south poles, where there is greater interaction between the earth’s magnetic fields and charged particles (called a ‘coronal mass ejection’) from the sun—they enter the Earth’s atmosphere and collide with gas molecules, releasing photons of light to create the incredible light displays in the sky.

This recent situation was caused by a strong geomagnetic storm that lasted many hours, and was carried by solar winds to lower latitudes than normal. Astronomers in Italy observed the northern lights in the North and Northeast, from Veneto to Ravenna, and even to Apulia. It was seen especially clearly over the Dolomites, thanks to the low light pollution in the area.

The geomagnetic storm is still ongoing, but it’s unclear if it is strong enough to cause another display like this to appear in Italy or this section of Europe again. Most likely not, as the sun appears to be reaching the maximum activity of this current cycle and then slowly taper off. However, 2024 and 2025 will still see high activity, which would mean stronger displays in the north of Europe!