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Posted at 11:45 AM ET, 02/17/2011

Solar flare 2011: Will the northern lights reach south?

By Melissa Bell
solar flare
Vivid red northern lights shine above Pioneer Peak in Palmer, Alaska, on Nov. 5, 2001. (Stephen Nowers/Anchorage Daily News via Associated Press)

Please excuse the sun. It's emitting a little flare these days. On Valentine's Day, the sun emitted it's first X-class flare in more than four years. These solar flares are bursts of magnetic energy released as radiation from the sun.

solar flare
A pair of active regions on the sun were captured in extreme ultraviolet light from the Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft from Feb. 7 to 10.(NASA/Solar Dynamics Observatory via Getty Images)

The downside of these burts of light? Intense X-class flares can trigger radio blackouts, radiation storms and damage to the electrical grid. China has reported disturbance from the flares.

The upside? Awesome northern lights. The lights are produced when the solar flare-charged particles blowing away from the sun, called solar wind, interact with the Earth's magnetic field. As the particles strike different gases in the atmosphere, they produce different colors.

There's even a chance us southerners in Washington might get a peak at the lights.

The Capital Weather Gang writes:

You'll need to be in a rural location to avoid the obscuration of city lights. Over the next few days clouds should not interfere with viewing. However, even if all else were favorable, the light of the nearly full moon significantly diminishes chances of seeing an aurora, except within couple hours before moon set in the very early morning hours. Chances of seeing the northern lights are better in New England and the Great Lakes (not coincidentally locations farther north).

By Melissa Bell  | February 17, 2011; 11:45 AM ET
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Cool Starry Bra

Posted by: WishboneJr | February 17, 2011 5:56 PM | Report abuse

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