Stunning light displays, or auroras, were visible in many parts of the world from May 10 to May 13, 2024 (Credit: BrayLockBoy/ CC-BY-SA-4.0/ Wikimedia Commons)

This past weekend, the Sun let its presence be felt by unleashing a series of massive solar flares. The resulting auroras were visible across the Northern Hemisphere and even parts of the Southern Hemisphere, treating stargazers to a rare and breathtaking spectacle.

The first solar flare struck Earth at 9:23 pm EDT on May 10, 2024. It was followed by at least four more flares. They slammed into our planet's outer atmosphere one by one until the early hours of May 13, 2024. Notably, most of these flares were classified as X-class. This is the most powerful type of surface explosion the Sun can produce.

The solar flares all originated from a sunspot region named AR3664 (Credit: Public Domain)

The flares all originated from a sunspot region named AR3664. The massive area, which is 15 times wider than Earth, is home to 58 individual sunspots. AR3664 is so large that it could be seen with eclipse glasses during the total solar eclipse in April 2024.

The radiation from the solar flares is blocked by Earth’s atmosphere and poses no danger to humans or animals. However, the coronal mass ejections (CME) — clouds of protons and other charged particles that follow the flares within about 20 minutes — can temporarily disrupt our satellite systems, GPS tracking devices, and power grids.

A NASA satellite recorded the Sun releasing a powerful solar flare on May 10, 2024 (Credit: NASA/ Solar Dynamics Observatory/ Public Domain)

However, the brief interruptions are well worth it. As the electrically charged CMEs enter our atmosphere, they collide with gases like oxygen and nitrogen to create breathtaking auroras. These spectacular light displays typically only occur near the Northern and Southern Hemisphere poles, where the Earth's magnetic field is strongest.

But the recent solar storms were unusually strong, producing auroras that could be seen across the US. The stunning light displays were also visible in Canada, Europe, and Northern China. In the Southern Hemisphere, they could be seen in Chile, Argentina, New Zealand, and Australia.