Northern Lights More Visible To Watchers

Traditionally, only sky watchers in high-latitude locations can see the Northern Lights, but during strong solar weather events, they can be more visible to observers at lower latitudes. A dazzling aurora light show amazedsky watchers across North America, from Canada to Arkansas, and other northern regions Monday night (Oct. 24), painting the sky with striking green and even rare red hues.

The aurora display was touched off by a wave charged particles unleashed by a massive sun storm on Saturday, which took two days to reach Earth, according to the Space Weather Prediction Center operated by the National Weather Service and NOAA.

“These were the most vibrant I’ve ever seen,” Canadian skywatcher Colin Chatfield of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan told SPACE.com in an email. “I was also able to see red with the naked eye, which I’ve never seen before either. Simply put, they were amazing.”

Auroras are caused when charged solar particles hit Earth’s atmosphere, causing a glow as the particles collide. The particles are funneled down over Earth’s poles causing the northern lights, or aurora borealis, in the north. Aurora displays over the South Pole are known as the Southern Lights, or aurora australis. See the spellbinding October aurora photo’s.

Photographer Shawn Malone in Marquette, Mich., expected a good aurora light show, but was still surprised by the sheer brilliance of Monday night’s northern light show. “I had taken a few pics, went back to the car to change lenses, and when I looked up the sky was on fire,” Malone said. “To the north there was this huge curtain that sent beams overhead to a corona in which I had to turn to the south to photograph. That’s when I noticed the reds and pinks starting to happen. From there the lights were every which direction. It was hands down the best northern lights I’ve seen since the great storm of November 2004.”

Just outside Philadelphia, in West Chester, Pa., veteran astrophotographer Jeff Berkes also wasn’t expecting an aurora display, especially right after the weekend peak of October’s Orionid meteor shower.

“I ran outside and jumped in my car leaving the tripod inside. I used the top of my Xterra and a sweatshirt to create a make-shift tripod,” Berkes told SPACE.com in an email. “The auroras only last a few minutes. But hey it was awesome! Haven’t seen them here since September 2001.”

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