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Aurora Watch: Solar Flares Are Lighting Up the Northern Skies

Aurora fans, take note: What is claimed to be the largest solar radiation storm since 2005 has outer space sizzling, an event that in the days ahead may yield some dramatic displays of the Northern Lights.

The impact of a large solar flare first reached earth on Sunday night, according to a Washington Post report, and will continue to bombard the planet through Wednesday.

Sun and solar flares via NASAThe article states that the flare's elevated radiation "is mostly a concern for satellite disruptions and astronauts in space." It can also cause communication problems for airplanes traveling in polar regions and could make GPS receivers temporarily less accurate.

What are your chances of seeing the Northern Lights from your back porch? It depends on your location, according to an expert quoted in the article: "Unlike last October, when a freak solar storm caused auroras to be seen as far south as Alabama, the northern lights aren't likely to dip too far south this time," the newspaper reports. "Parts of New England, upstate New York, northern Michigan, Montana and the Pacific Northwest could see an aurora but not until Tuesday evening."

A report published in Discovery.com explains the event, a "coronal mass ejection," is significant though it does not imperil the general welfare of we earthlings. "The explosive energy was just shy of an X-class solar flare—the strongest kind of flare the sun can produce," the website reports. A NASA website also provides more details on the event. Jan. 24 update: Here's a report on the solar storm from CBS News:

If you're eager for a glimpse of what's happening in the skies, check out a collection of photographs that were captured near the Arctic Circle Sunday night (Jan. 22) and are displayed in an aurora gallery hosted by spaceweather.com. MSNBC.com also offers several images taken last night plus a gallery of classic aurora scenes caused by past solar storms.

Here's a video clip of the Northern Lights in action Sunday night, recorded by Helge Mortensen in Norway:

You can also take a second look at one of our favorite outdoor videos of 2011, a promotional video for tourism in Finland that beautifully captures the spectacle of the Northern Lights:

Readers up north: Did you see any aurora displays Sunday night? Will you be keeping an eye on the sky in the nights ahead?

Posted on at 9:53 PM

Tagged: aurora and northern lights

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