This week's auroras seen in unusual places

Posted: Friday, November 12, 2004

The planet is under attack, and night people in Juneau have had a great view this week.

Waves of charged particles from large flares on the sun are bombarding the Earth, making the dancing lights visible farther south than normal - well into the American South, according to Charles Deehr, aurora forecaster and professor emeritus of physics at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. He predicted maximum aurora activity through tonight and possibly into the weekend.

When the northern lights come out tonight, though, Juneau may be one of the few American places without a view.

Julia Ruthford, a forecaster at the National Weather Service in Juneau, said people sometimes call her office to let the meteorologists know the aurora borealis is visible. But seeing them through breaks in the clouds Thursday night might have been the last best chance to see the current show.

For sky watching, she said, tonight "is not going to be good."

Ruthford said it looks like clouds will be building up through the day, and rain could begin in the afternoon. Another front is expected to move in Saturday, and more precipitation is expected for the next few days.

"November in Juneau," she said.

Amy Hartley, information officer at the UAF Geophysical Institute, said this aurora is different because it's being seen by people who have only heard of auroras.

"We don't normally get e-mails from people saying, 'I'm from Illinois, and I've seen an aurora.' "

The institute has heard questions from places like Scotland and Berlin, Hartley said. She didn't have a list of cities where the aurora has been seen this week, but said some states the institute heard from are Tennessee, Missouri, Kansas, North Carolina and South Carolina.

Deehr reported that the aurora should be visible tonight throughout most of the United States, "if skies cooperate."

The active sunspot bringing the sheets of colored light began erupting Saturday and started to become visible Sunday.

Deehr said people in clear areas should look for the aurora from a dark place, with a view of the "poleward" horizon.

Just as the charged solar particles hitting the atmosphere over the North Pole are causing the aurora borealis, the particles hitting over the South Pole are responsible for southern lights - the aurora australis.

Newspapers in Australia are reporting some aurora sightings into northern New South Wales, as far from the South Pole as the northernmost villages of Mexico are from the North Pole.



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