Computer-generated image falsely shared as northern lights over Norway during solar storm

  • Published on May 31, 2024 at 04:58
  • 4 min read
  • By AFP Thailand
Facebook users have shared a computer-generated image of a vibrant multi-colour sky over Santa Barbara, California thousands of times in posts falsely claiming it shows the northern lights seen from Norway. The claim circulated after a powerful solar storm triggered the sighting of auroras around the world in May 2024.

"The northern lights seen with the naked eye in Norway during the solar flare," read a Burmese-language Facebook post shared on May 12, 2024. 

The photo -- shared more than 1,500 times -- appears to show a dazzling display of pink and purple streaks lighting up the sky.

Screenshot taken on May 29, 2024 of the false post

Solar storms are caused by violent eruptions on the Sun's surface that shoot out electromagnetic rays. These can cause powerful geomagnetic storms that affect the Earth's magnetic field, disrupting telecommunications and electricity grids (archived link).

The most powerful solar storm in more than two decades struck Earth on May 10, 2024 triggering auroras sightings from Tasmania to Britain.

The auroras, which are usually seen in the Earth's poles, strayed as far as Mexico, southern Europe and South Africa, delighting sky gazers with exuberant pinks, greens and purples. 

The photo circulated online as the social media lit up with pictures of auroras from the solar storm. 

However, the image -- shared alongside a similar claim here, here, and here -- predates the celestial event by more than a month.

Old video 

A reverse image search and keyword search on Google found the photo was taken from a computer-generated video published on Instagram by an account called Alpine_manor on April 7, 2024 (archived link). 

Screenshot of the original post on Instagram

Alongside a clip of a car driving along a highway below a vibrant sky, the post's caption read: "it wouldn’t be L.A without… ✨✨✨."

Below is a screenshot comparison of the photo in the false post (left) and the Instagram video (right): 

the screenshot comparison of the photo from the misleading post (left) to the Instagram video (right)

In the video's comments section, Alpine_manor told another Instagram user that the footage was created with "AI" in response to their question about whether it was "real".

Below is a screenshot of the comment from the original uploader highlighted in green by AFP: 

Screenshot of the original uploader''s comment highlighted by AFP

Although AFP could not confirm whether the video was made with AI software, the original uploader regularly posts content captioned as AI-generated, including here and here and here.

Using visual clues in the video, AFP found the original footage was filmed in Santa Barbara, California -- not Norway, as the false posts claimed.

Below is the screenshot comparison of the Instagram video (left) to the location in Santa Barbara (right) with similarities highlighted by AFP: 


The Los Angeles Times reported that the solar storm on May 10 brought the northern lights to the Northern California, but much of the Southern California was left out of the light show due to urban light pollutions (archived link). 

A reverse image search of the original video show the same galaxy sky effect used in multiple different videos on social media.  

Google reverse image search of the original video show the same galaxy sky effect used in multiple videos

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