The northern lights (as well as the streak of an airplane’s lights) appear over Scarborough Marsh on Friday night. Photo courtesy of Towle Tompkins

If not for a hungry baby, Rebecca Adams might have missed one of the most spectacular northern lights shows in the past 20 years.

Adams, of West Gardiner, had seen a report online that the northern lights – or aurora borealis – might be visible across the U.S. on Friday night. She looked outside around 9 p.m., saw nothing remarkable and went to bed. But when 5-month-old Theo woke his mom up to be fed after 2 a.m., she glanced outside again – and saw the sky alive with moving lights in green, purple and blue hues.

“We live out in the woods, so we could see it really well. There were flashes of light, and it lit up the whole yard,” said Adams, 28, who works for the Maine state government. “We took Theo out too, but he didn’t really look up. I’m excited to show him the pictures someday and tell him he was there.”

An unusually strong solar storm lit up the skies Friday night into Saturday morning, creating a stunning display of color and movement that was visible across the Northern Hemisphere. The light show could be seen in the U.S. as far south as Alabama and as far west as California, the Associated Press reported.

The Space Weather Prediction Center at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued a rare severe geomagnetic storm warning Friday, said Maura Casey, a meteorologist at the NOAA National Weather Service office in Gray.

The solar storm was expected to continue, and there’s a chance that colorful conditions could be seen throughout the weekend, Casey said.

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The last time a geomagnetic – or solar – storm this strong was visible on Earth was in 2003, said Edward Herrick-Gleason, manager of the Southworth Planetarium at the University of Southern Maine. Northern lights events are visible frequently close to the Earth’s magnetic poles but rarely in places farther away, Herrick-Gleason added.

A rare aurora borealis hangs over the rocky shoreline of Peaks Island and Casco Bay. Long Island is visible in the distance. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Unlike the total solar eclipse on April 8, which had been predicted for years, solar storms are much less predictable, Herrick-Gleason said. Even though NOAA issued a warning for Friday night, it wasn’t widely reported, and the bright night sky caught a lot of people off guard.

Amanda Anderson, of Rockland, said she got notification of northern lights in her area around 9:45 p.m. via an aurora forecast app, which she downloaded while visiting Iceland a few years ago. At first, she didn’t think the alert could be real.

“It said it would be visible in half the U.S. I though it might be a hack. But then I thought, ‘If this is real, I don’t want to miss it,’” said Anderson, 53, who works for the U.S. Department of Energy.

A view of the northern lights as seen from Whitefield on Friday night. Photo courtesy of Bailey Hamilton

Anderson drove north along the coast to Lincolnville Beach, where other people had gathered to watch the sky. She saw splashes of green and red. There were streaks or rays of lights raining down in every direction.

Once the northern lights became visible across Maine on Friday night, a flood of photos were shared via social media or by text. Many people said the photos seemed to capture the light more dramatically than the naked eye, so, naturally, the photos caused more people to go out and look for themselves.

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Allison Hepler, of Woolwich, had heard there might be a northern lights event at some point Friday, but she didn’t think much of it. She participated in a spelling bee at the Patten Free Library in Bath on Friday night, then went home and began scrolling through the news online.

“I saw these photos (of the sky), and I said to my husband, ‘Let’s drive somewhere to see this.’ But we got outside, and we could see it really well from our house,” said Hepler, 68, the Maine state representative for District 49.

Joseph Lindsey walks to the corner of Elizabeth Road and Whitney Avenue in Portland just after 10 p.m. Friday. Photo courtesy of David Devoe

Even in populated places where you’d think light pollution would interfere, the light show was visible.

David Devoe, of Portland, got a text from a friend about the northern lights. Around 10 p.m., Devoe and his partner, Joseph Lindsey, decided to walk around their neighborhood, bounded by outer Congress Street and Brighton Avenue, and were awed by emerald streaks in the sky. They walked around for about half an hour, then decided to drive to a rural part of Gorham, along a road with no street lights.

At that spot, looking over undeveloped land, they saw deep purple and reddish hues, but less emerald, Devoe said.

“It was the first time I’d seen anything like that in my life,” said Devoe, 44, who is studying clinical mental health at USM. “I’ve been to Iceland and other places but never thought I’d see it here in Maine.”

Bonny Eagle High School science teacher Melissa Mackenzie said about 100 people gathered at the Sebago Lake boat launch in Standish on Friday to see the northern lights. Photo courtesy of Melissa Mackenzie

Melissa Mackenzie, a science teacher at Bonny Eagle High School in Standish, took dramatic photos from the Sebago Lake boat launch in Standish on Friday night. She said about 100 people gathered there to watch the northern lights, including some who had driven from Massachusetts and Connecticut.

“One young man had just graduated from (Worcester Polytechnic Institute) who had painted an aurora on his graduation cap. He said he chases them all over and these were the best he’d ever seen,” Mackenzie wrote in an email to the Press Herald.

A view of the aurora borealis Friday from a home in Albany. Tiffany Smith/Sun Journal

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