Last Friday night saw both students and locals flock towards the shadows of Oxford, in order to catch a glimpse of the stunning aurora borealis painted above the ‘city of dreaming spires’.

For the first time in two decades – i.e., in most of our lifetimes – an “extreme” geomagnetic storm created a dramatic light show across the UK and the Northern Hemisphere. Rated G5, the strongest level on the geomagnetic storm scale, the phenomenon was produced by a “large, complex” sunspot cluster, seventeen times the diameter of the Earth, according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Put simply, charged waves of magnetic gas erupts from the sun’s surface in bursts. When these particles hit gases in the Earth’s atmosphere, they produce the colours that we see as part of the aurora borealis.

LEFT: Skyline from South Park [Cred: Michaela Rychetská, Original Photo]
RIGHT: Above South Park [Cred: Michaela Rychetská, Original Photo]

Although a G4 (Severe) storm hit Earth as recently as March 2024, the last time Earth witnessed a G5-level geomagnetic storm was in October 2003. These ‘Halloween Storms’ caused blackouts in Sweden amongst other disturbances, Professor Carole Haswell told the BBC Radio 4 Today Programme on Saturday morning. This time, Elon Musk’s Starlink has warned of a “degraded service” due to the storm.

Oriel College First Quad [Cred: Darcy Pearsall, Original Photo]

All this being said, it is beyond me how one prefers to complain about a bad network connection or GPS, instead of marvelling at the dancing colours above. In this spirit, Oxford students took to the dimly lit streets in pursuit of the phenomenon. Whilst I had shoved on my slippers and enjoyed my college’s quads as well as the Radcliffe Camera with a pinkish green backdrop, friends had ventured to South Park, University Parks, and Port Meadow, with the solar storm on full display.

LEFT: Radcliffe Square [Cred: Darcy Pearsall, Original Photo]
RIGHT: Outside Magdalen College [Cred: Varya Srivastava, Original Photo]

Did you manage to glimpse the painted skies, or were you too busy sleeping like a log? Fear not, for I’m sure you’ll be able to catch it again…in ten years or so.