Northern Lights: Bay Area spectators head for the hills to catch rare glimpse

Spectators gathered for the rare opportunity to see the Northern Lights illuminating the night sky as far south as the Bay Area for the second night in a row on Saturday.

"Just fascinates me that some things big in the universe are like real," Teen space enthusiast Reginachelly Macaranas told KTVU while waiting for the sun to go down. "They’re really up there."

All the excitement drew in stargazers to the Oakland hills on Saturday night.

"You never know where it’s going to pop up at," Stargazer Mike Bucci said. "So, we’re just kind of lucky that we’re getting such a good view of it."

Bucci and his family were part of the crowd of hundreds who flocked to the Chabot Space and Science Center in Oakland, which was tracking the Aurora, the likes of which are normally found over Alaska.

"We’ve never seen the Aurora Borealis before, and so, I thought hey, if I can see it from here, that would be fantastic," said Scott Zimmerman, who made the short trip over from Mountain View.

The magnificent view is from huge chunks of the sun blasting off into space, right toward earth, catching a ride on an unusually fast-moving solar wind, according to astronomer Gerald McKeegan, which may sound like an episode of Star Trek.

McKeegan is monitoring the red, green, and sometimes purple lights from the Chabot Observatory.

"What we are seeing is charged particles in the solar wind entering our atmosphere and interacting with the oxygen in our atmosphere."

The downside of all this is potential disruptions to satellites or transmission lines.

Experts say the naked eye might not see bright lights, but the camera on a smartphone will, because it’s better at picking up faint color.

"It’s definitely a bucket list item," Megan Bucci said. 

But at the Chabot Observatory, home of an historic 1915 telescope, affectionately known as Rachel, a breathtaking view is not the only thing they are hoping for.

"First of all, we like to see the excitement of the crowd. We get a lot of people come on up here," McKeegan told KTVU. "Their excitement in seeing the aurora is pretty infectious."

Especially when it captures the imagination of children.

"There’s a lot of galaxies. I mean, anything could be out there," 9-year-old Kendra Bucci said.

McKeegan expected a second night of light shows on Saturday after 10:00 p.m. PST, and an even more impressive show on Sunday night, which he said might not happen again for another eleven years, if not longer.

The best place to see the Aurora is away from city lights and at higher elevations.