A Once-In-a-Lifetime Shot

The Shot by Bruce Feagle

May’s Historic Geomagnetic Storm Brings the Northern Lights to Southern California

Early May brought viewers a once-in-a-lifetime spectacle as a strong geomagnetic storm illuminated Southern California with the northern lights.

Onlookers were treated to a breathtaking display as the skies lit up with brilliant shades of purple, pink, green, and yellow.

This aurora borealis, caused by a powerful geomagnetic storm impacting Earth, was visible across the country, including throughout California. This solar storm is the largest to hit the U.S. in over two decades.

Reports of the stunning phenomenon came from across the state, with sightings as far south as San Diego and as far north as Northern California.

Our friend Bruce Feagle shares how he almost passed on this unique photo opportunity but ended up capturing stunning images of the rare phenomenon.

By Bruce Feagle

May 10, 2024, started like any other day. I went to work, eagerly anticipating the Coachella Valley Firebirds hockey game at the Acrisure Arena that night. However, early that afternoon, reports and images of the aurora being spotted across the globe began to flood in. While I was aware of the inbound CMEs (Coronal Mass Ejections – large expulsions of plasma and magnetic fields from the Sun’s corona), I was skeptical that the aurora would be visible as far south as the SoCal desert. Yet, images from unexpected places showed spectacular auroral displays, exceeding all expectations.

A second shot by Bruce Feagle
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Still doubtful, I went to the hockey game, not expecting much more than a faint glow on the horizon. Updates kept coming in during the game, but when I saw reports of the aurora being visible in Ft. Lauderdale, FL, I started to consider heading to a dark sky area to see if anything could be spotted.

Despite my reluctance, based on past experiences with overhyped meteor storms and comets, I decided to take a chance.

My friends at the Joshua Tree Astronomy Arts Theater were hosting a star party that night, which I would have attended if not for the playoff hockey game. I called Tom O’Key, who told me they could see a light glow near the horizon, with cell phone cameras capturing the colors. That was enough to get me moving. I grabbed my camera and tripod and set off, thinking even a small display would be worth the effort.

Initially, I planned to head for Landers to minimize light pollution, but I changed my mind and drove to the park, hoping to capture an epic shot. Along the drive, away from town lights, I glimpsed what I thought was the aurora out of the car window. It was hard to believe, but as I entered the park, it became clear that I was indeed seeing the aurora.

Though mostly shades of brightness with little color initially, it was a mesmerizing sight.

After parking and starting to set up my camera, I realized I had grabbed the wrong camera plate for the tripod. Frustrated but determined, I managed to wedge the plate at an angle and secure the camera just enough to hold it. Despite several falls, I finally got it stable.

With my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I could now see the aurora’s glow above me, with dim red hues and bright vertical light streams reaching up from the horizon. It was a breathtaking scene. By 12:30 am, I began taking pictures, timing my shots between the numerous cars driving through the park. The intense part of the storm lasted another 30 minutes, and by 1:15 am, it was fading. At 1:30 am, after one final camera fall, I decided to head home to review my shots.

The images on my computer had me so excited that I couldn’t sleep. Despite the challenges, I had captured what I believe to be an iconic representation of the event – a once-in-a-lifetime shot.

Joshua Tree Voice would like to express our deep gratitude to Bruce for allowing us to publish his photos and story. If you are interested in purchasing prints, please go to https://brucefeagle.com.

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