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Spectacular northern lights show sneaks up on Alaska

Ben Anderson
The northern lights, photographed in Fairbanks, Alaska. September 18, 2012
Courtesy Brandon Lovett
The northern lights on Nov. 23, seen just north of Fairbanks in the Steele Creek area.
Ed Gonzalez photo
Northern Lights dance above Palmer on Jan 15, 2013.
Courtesy Thom Swavely
Northern Lights over North Pole, Alaska, November 1, 2012
Courtesy Lara Poirrier
The northern lights, photographed in Fairbanks, Alaska. September 18, 2012
Courtesy Brandon Lovett
This image was taken at Chena Hot Springs Resort in Interior Alaska. (Image cropped from original)
Aaron Corbeil
Northern Lights dance above Palmer on Dec 16, 2012.
Courtesy Thom Swavely
Northern Lights over North Pole, Alaska, November 1, 2012
Courtesy Lara Poirrier
The northern lights, photographed in Fairbanks, Alaska. September 18, 2012
Courtesy Brandon Lovett
The Northern Lights dance above Tahneta pass in the early morning hours of November 13, 2012.
Loren Holmes photo
Northern Lights over North Pole, Alaska, November 1, 2012
Courtesy Lara Poirrier
The northern lights, photographed in Fairbanks, Alaska. September 18, 2012
Courtesy Brandon Lovett
This image was captured just outside of Fairbanks at the pipeline viewpoint.
Trevor Gridley
The Northern Lights dance above Sheep Mountain in the early morning hours of November 13, 2012.
Loren Holmes photo
Northern Lights over North Pole, Alaska, November 1, 2012
Courtesy Lara Poirrier
Aurora chasing is always a game of chance: even nights predicted for good viewing oftentimes don't pan out. The sky must be clear and you must be far from city lights. Oh - and the universe itself must cooperate, too.
Brandon Lovett photo
Northern lights above O'Malley peak in Anchorage. May 1, 2013
Courtesy Todd Running
The Northern Lights dance above Sheep Mountain in the early morning hours of November 13, 2012.
Loren Holmes photo
Northern Lights over North Pole, Alaska, November 1, 2012
Courtesy Lara Poirrier
Northern lights blaze over Alaska all year long. However, come May, June and July, much of the state is bathed in 20-24 hours of sunlight, making the aurora difficult to watch.
Brandon Lovett photo
Northern lights above O'Malley peak in Anchorage. May 1, 2013
Courtesy Todd Running
The Northern Lights dance above Sheep Mountain in the early morning hours of November 13, 2012.
Loren Holmes photo
Northern Lights over North Pole, Alaska, November 1, 2012
Courtesy Lara Poirrier
Northern lights activity increases with solar storms. This year has seen several massive solar storms, and the aurora borealis viewing has in turn been pretty amazing over Alaska, particularly earlier in 2012.
Brandon Lovett photo
Northern Lights dance above North Pole on April 14, 2013
Courtesy Northern Source Images
The Northern Lights dance above Tahneta pass in the early morning hours of November 13, 2012.
Loren Holmes photo
Northern Lights, October 12, 2012
Courtesy Todd List
Northern Lights, October 12, 2012
Courtesy Todd List
Aurora borealis shimmers over Delta Junction, Alaska, just after midnight on Thursday, Aug. 23. (More photos: Facebook.com/SebastianSaarloos)
Sebastian Saarloos photo
Northern Lights dance above North Pole on April 14, 2013
Courtesy Northern Source Images
The Northern Lights dance above the Eureka Roadhouse in the early morning hours of November 13, 2012.
Loren Holmes photo
Northern Lights, October 12, 2012
Courtesy Todd List
Location is a key factor when preparing to photograph northern lights. As aurora activity increases it normally starts from the east as Earth rotates into the dancing lights.
Brandon Lovett photo
On the night of March 16, 2013, the northern lights were out in force across Alaska. This photo was taken from Eureka Lodge between 10 p.m. and 1 a.m.
Loren Holmes photo
The milky way is colored by faint aurora at Tahneta pass in the early morning hours of November 13, 2012.
Loren Holmes photo
Northern lights as seen from Talkeetna on Oct. 12, 2012.
Dora Miller photo
Traditionally, good times for aurora viewing and photographing in Alaska come between 11 p.m. and 2 a.m. But during strong solar storms aurora can be seen at all hours once the sky darkens.
Brandon Lovett photo
On the night of March 16, 2013, the northern lights were out in force across Alaska. This photo was taken from Eureka Lodge between 10 p.m. and 1 a.m.
Loren Holmes photo
The Northern Lights dance above Tahneta pass in the early morning hours of November 13, 2012.
Loren Holmes photo
Northern lights as seen over Nikiski on Oct. 12, 2012.
Leslie Richards photo
When photographing northern lights, controlling the movement of your camera is paramount. Remote shutter release is one way to keep movement minimal.
Brandon Lovett photo
On the night of March 16, 2013, the northern lights were out in force across Alaska. This photo was taken from Eureka Lodge between 10 p.m. and 1 a.m.
Loren Holmes photo
The Northern Lights dance above Sheep Mountain in the early morning hours of November 13, 2012.
Loren Holmes photo
The northern lights were strong enough on Oct. 12, 2012 to be seen even in the city lights of Anchorage.
Jacob Todd photo
Aurora dances above a residence in Bear Valley, on the south side of Anchorage, on Oct. 12, 2012.
Courtesy Chuck Berray
A view of the northern lights from the International Space Station on Jan. 29, 2012.
NASA photo
The Northern Lights dance above Sheep Mountain in the early morning hours of November 13, 2012.
Loren Holmes photo
Northern Lights above Eagle River, with Denali in the background.
Courtesy Alaska's Nature
Aurora above Anchorage, Alaska, on Oct. 12, 2012.
Courtesy Chuck Berray
North Pole and Fairbanks got a nice light show early March 3,2013. For about 45 minutes the aurora ebbed and flowed in the sky. Lara Poirrier of Northern Source Images was able to catch this photo.
Lara Poirrier, Northern Source Images
The Northern Lights dance above Sheep Mountain in the early morning hours of November 13, 2012.
Loren Holmes photo
The Northern Lights dance above southcentral Alaska skies on September 30, 2012.
Loren Holmes photo
Aurora weaves under the Big Dipper constellation in Palmer, Alaska.10:30 p.m., Oct 12., 2012.
Courtesy Thom Swavely
Photographer Trevor Gridley says he "caught this image on the way to work a while back" in Interior Alaska.
Trevor Gridley
Northern lights dance above the Knik river early morning November 8, 2012.
Loren Holmes photo
The Northern Lights dance above southcentral Alaska skies on September 30, 2012.
Loren Holmes photo
A view of the northern lights on Nov. 23, 2012 near Fox, Alaska.
Lucie Steiger photo
Beautiful crazy colors captured in Alaska's Interior during the winter of 2013.
Trevor Gridley
Northern lights dance above the Knik river as the moon rises early morning November 8, 2012.
Loren Holmes photo
Northern Lights above Alaska on September 30, 2012
Courtesy Melissa Wollman
A view of the northern lights on Nov. 23, 2012 near Fox, Alaska.
Lucie Steiger photo
Northern Lights dance above Palmer on Dec 16, 2012.
Courtesy Thom Swavely
Northern Lights over North Pole, Alaska, November 1, 2012
Courtesy Lara Poirrier

Sometimes, the northern lights come out when you least expect them. Friday night was one of those times. A spectacular display of northern lights bathed much of the state in a cool green glow, with the aurora so bright it could even be seen amid the bright lights of downtown Anchorage.

While solar activity -- which is typically responsible for auroral displays on Earth -- has been high lately, the predictions for Friday were relatively calm. Space weather predictions called for only mild geomagnetic activity, meaning there was a possibility for little, if any, aurora. The aurora forecast available from the University of Alaska Fairbanks had predicted only "quiet" auroral activity, with a possibility of being visible overhead in Barrow, but not even stretching to Fairbanks.

Instead, nearly the whole state got a show. Readers on Alaska Dispatch's Facebook page said that they could see them everywhere from Delta Junction, Talkeetna and Kenai to Emmonak and New Stuyahok. One Dispatch staffer even reported seeing them in downtown Anchorage, testifying to the strength of the display.

Southeast Alaska may have been among the few areas to miss the show, though, readers in Ketchikan, Juneau and Sitka all reported clouds and rain. Juneau on Friday got its first snowfall, according to the National Weather Service.

Tonight's aurora forecast is a little more optimistic than Friday's, though only "low" activity is predicted. You can check the weather in your area at the National Weather Service.

But just like any kind of weather, predicting space weather isn't an exact science. The show may continue tonight, so if the skies are clear where you are, be sure to pause a moment and look to the heavens.

And if you do catch a glimpse, we're always excited to see your photos to be included in our running reader gallery of northern lights. Send them to info(at)alaskadispatch.com.

Contact Ben Anderson at ben(at)alaskadispatch.com