Luckily, photographer Nathaniel Wood was there to catch it all on camera.

By Stacey Leasca
April 05, 2018
Nathaniel Wood

Though the Palm Springs area is well-known for its stunning sunsets, a new photo of the evening sky posted on Instagram by photographer Nathaniel Wood has plenty of people scratching their heads and asking, "What is that?"

“Driving back to my parents house in palm desert tonight. We experienced something I still can’t understand,” Wood wrote in the caption of the Instagram photo depicting the odd lights shining in the sky above Palm Desert. “This super intense aurora that lasted for about 15 minutes. Completely visible to the naked eye. I didn’t have a real camera with me, so I had to use my iPhone. I barely edited these images. it was so crazy!!”

Nathaniel Wood

Wood told Travel + Leisure he snapped the photos around 12:50 a.m. "I just wish I had been more prepared; it came out of nowhere when we were out getting food," he said. 

People were quick to jump into the comments with a few guesses, and of course some suggested the rainbow-bright clouds were some sort of message from aliens.

“The aliens are coming for us!!,” one commenter wrote. “The truth is out there,” another added.

Related: The 6 Best Places to See the Northern and Southern Lights in Person

Some, however, were also placing blame on Elon Musk, who has previously lit up the desert night sky with a SpaceX rocket launch.

But, a few others gave a more well-researched guess that the ghostly aurora was actually a Noctilucent Cloud. T+L reached out to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, who said they too believed it to be a Noctilucent Cloud, though they couldn’t verify it without independently observing it in real-time.

“Glowing silver-blue clouds – called noctilucent or night shining clouds – sometimes light up summer night skies,” EarthSky explained. 

However, this sighting in Palm Desert is rather rare as typically the clouds are only seen at “high latitudes — say, about 45 degrees N. or S. — from May through August in the Northern Hemisphere,” EarthSky continued. They are, however, usually spotted in the Southern Hemisphere from November through February.

Others in the Southern California region were quick to jump on the Noctilucent Cloud theory, sharing more images of the stunning event.

So there you have it; it was almost certainly Noctilucent Clouds, but hey, there’s still a slight chance it was Musk's doing. Or, you know, aliens.