Comment: Oh yeah folks, we're in the middle of it now!

On the south Pacific island of New Caledonia, no one expects to see auroras. Ever. Situated about halfway between Tonga and Australia, the cigar-shaped island is too close to the equator for Northern or Southern Lights. Yet on May 10, 2024, this happened:
aurora new caledonia
© Frédéric DesmoulinsThe auroras australis have been observed as far away as New Caledonia (Boulouparis). Photo taken on the evening of May 11, 2024 at 8:00 p.m. Nikon D500, 16-80 f/2.8-4.0, ISO 5000, 20s f/3.2. Historic first for New Caledonia.
"I have rarely been so happy when taking a photo!" says Frédéric Desmoulins, who photographed the display from Boulouparis in the island's south province. "I could see the red color of the auroras with my naked eye. According to the New Caledonian Astronomy Society, these photos are the first for this territory."

"The auroral visibility from New Caledonia is really unique and extremely valuable," says Hisashi Hayakawa, a space weather researcher at Japan's Nagoya University. "The last time sky watchers saw auroras in the area may have been during the Carrington Event of Sept. 1859, when auroras were sighted from a ship in the Coral Sea."

Hayakawa specializes in historical studies of great auroral storms. He tries to go back in time as far as possible. The problem is, magnetometers and other modern sensors didn't exist hundreds of years ago. Instead, he looks for records of aurora sightings in old newspapers, diaries, ships logs and even paintings. Great Storms are identified by their low latitude - anything with naked-eye auroras below 30° MLAT (magnetic latitude).

"May 10th was definitely a 'Great Storm,'" declares Hayakawa. "Naked-eye auroras in New Caledonia (MLAT = -26.4°) and Puerto Rico (MLAT = 27.2°) cracked the latitude barrier in both of Earth's hemispheres."

auroras solar storms chart
© Hisashi Hayakawa
In fact, it is among the top 20 Great Storms of the past 500 years. The above timeline from a research paper by Hayakawa has been modified to display the May 10th event. It is the green dot on the far-right end of the timeline.

Hayakawa is eager for more data. Readers, if you witnessed auroras at low latitudes on May 10th, please submit your photos to our gallery and fill out this questionnaire from Hayakawa. Your observations may be included in a future research paper.