Strong solar flares mean rare northern lights possible

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RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Unusually strong flares coming from the sun earlier this week will give part of the United States the chance to see northern lights Thursday night.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration expects that a solar outburst could produce northern lights, or auroras, as far south as Oregon to Pennsylvania, according to the Washington Post.

The most likely times for this to happen are from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. If they appear, auroras will be in the northern sky.

Solar flares, or coronal mass ejections (CME), are bursts of energy and particles that get thrown toward Earth by the sun. They happen frequently, but don’t always make it across the solar systems. CMEs that do make it to Earth normally are deflected by the magnetic shield around the planet.

This time, however, the CME is unusually strong, so some of the energy and particles will make it around the Earth’s magnetic field to the north and south pole.

The particles and energy that make it to the poles will filter down through North America, possibly giving the northern night sky some auroral activity. This will be in the form of some greening of the sky, but not an extreme version of multi-colored ribbons that are seen in photos or movies.

Auroras, which are difficult to forecast, are usually only visible in Alaska or Canada, so it’s worth looking.

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