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Rare Sighting of Aurora Borealis in the South

The aurora borealis is appearing across the country, as far south as California and Georgia. If you look up in the sky, you?re likely to see a shimmering display of red and green lights. The colorful streaks, also known as the Northern Lights, are rarely seen south of Canada and Alaska.

They could be seen on Monday night beginning around 8:50 p.m. EST, as broad blue and green spiked bands, tinged with brilliant red areas. The sky was ?almost like a fluorescent red,? according to Rick Anderson in West Virginia. ?What was really awesome was I looked through my back yard, where I could see the horizon, and it looked like rays coming from the ground up into the sky,? he says.

The Northern Lights occur when charged particles blowing away from the sun, called solar wind, interact with the Earth?s magnetic field. The lights are produced as the particles strike different gases in the atmosphere. The lights can be seen every night this week, although they will weaken in intensity as the week progresses.

The color of the aurora depends upon what type of molecule is struck by the particles and at what atmospheric level. Oxygen at about 60 miles up produces a green color, the most common aurora color. Higher-level oxygen produces the rare all-red auroras, while ionized nitrogen produces blue light and neutral nitrogen glows purplish-red at the edges of the aurora.

A large solar flare caused the lights to be visible farther south than usual, says Brian Murphy, director of Butler University?s Holcomb Observatory in Indianapolis. Clear skies and dry air also created ideal conditions. ?There was this huge red streak through the northern sky,? says Murphy. ?I?d never seen an aurora like that before.?

?We?ve had some calls saying it?s red and also it?s white. We?ve seen green here in town,? says Greg Devoir, a meteorologist in State College, Pennsylvania.

People who didn?t recognize the phenomenon called the National Weather Service offices, asking what was going on. ?I guess people were jumping up and down, a little excited, not knowing what they were seeing,? says Martin Thompson, a meteorological technician in Cleveland, Ohio.

For Spaceweather.com's mind-blowing aurora gallery, click here.

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