Northern lights expected to put on impressive display
April 13, 2013 10:30 AM
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A solar flare that occurred around 2 a.m. Thursday morning may create a spectacular display of northern lights this evening across much of the region. The midlevel flare had a long duration and was directed at Earth.

According to AccuWeather. com astronomer Hunter Outten, who called the flare “impressive,” these are the best conditions for seeing a direct effect on our planet.

On the Kp index, a scale for measuring the intensity of a geomagnetic storm, the flare has been categorized at 6 to 8. That rating means that the effects of the radiation will have a greater reach.

The radiation from such a flare may cause radio wave disturbances to electronics such as cell phones, GPS and radios, causing services to occasionally cut in and out. While traveling slower than was originally anticipated, the flare effects are moving toward Earth at 1,000 km per second.

The more directly a flare faces Earth, the higher the effect will be.

The flare is also expected to cause vibrant northern lights from the Arctic as far south as Pennsylvania, the Dakotas, Washington and Michigan, Iowa, and even Kansas. The lights are currently estimated for arrival today at 8 p.m., with a possible deviation of up to seven hours. If the radiation hits much after dark settles on the East Coast, the lights may be missed and will instead only be visible for the West.

Solar flares create auroras when radiation from the sun reaches Earth and interacts with charged protons in our atmosphere. The effects are greater at the magnetic poles and weaken as they move south from the Arctic or north of the Antarctic. In the Northern Hemisphere the results are called the aurora borealis, with the aurora australis being its southern counterpart. The result is a spectacular display of light and color for areas with clear enough views.

Viewing conditions will be best in the mid-Atlantic, specifically for parts of Pennsylvania and the Delmarva Peninsula. The forecast for Indiana County calls for clearing skies tonight. Most of the country will have poor to fair views as a result of cloud cover, with areas farther south not experiencing the aurora at all.

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