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Solar flare could create spectacular light show


A giant solar flare erupted on the surface of the sun Tuesday morning. (Courtesy NASA)
A giant solar flare erupted on the surface of the sun Tuesday morning. (Courtesy NASA)

Alexandra Pope, staff writer

February 16, 2011 — Energy from a strong solar storm could lead to a spectacular show for skywatchers this week.

Canadians coast to coast have a good chance of seeing aurora borealis this week
Canadians coast to coast have a good chance of seeing aurora borealis this week

Fans of aurora borealis -- more commonly known as the northern lights -- should keep their eyes on the night sky this week.

The strongest solar flare in four and a half years is flinging charged particles at Earth's magnetic field, and conditions are ripe for aurora borealis to light up the northern sky every night until Thursday.

Astronomer Andrew Fazekas says a giant solar flare that erupted on the surface of the sun early Tuesday morning is aimed directly at Earth. The result is that people across Canada, not just in the north, have a chance of seeing the elusive northern lights this week.

“This is an X2-class flare on the scale that astronomers use for solar flares, and that’s considered strong, so there’s a good chance that Canada, coast to coast, could have some auroras,” Fazekas says.

The best time to catch auroras is after midnight from now until Thursday night.

Solar flares can interfere with radio and wireless transmissions, so scientists are keeping a close eye on this solar storm, Fazekas says.

“Hopefully we'll just be having a nice light show in the skies.”

The weather could interfere with this rare opportunity to catch the northern lights at more southern latitudes. Rob Davis, a meteorologist with The Weather Network, says almost nowhere in Canada will experience perfectly clear skies in the next couple of nights.

“The best chance of clearing might be in the interior of British Columbia, and possibly parts of Atlantic Canada tomorrow,” he says. “Otherwise, it'll be clear in the Territories, where they're more likely to see aurora borealis anyway.”

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