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Solar flare could light up night sky
[February 17, 2011]

Solar flare could light up night sky

Feb 17, 2011 (Times Union - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Those hoping to catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights after the sun erupted balls of plasma earlier this week have a slim chance, according to a space scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The sun spewed three large balls of plasma, or Coronal Mass Ejections, on Sunday and Monday, Joe Kunches said, and the CMEs are headed toward Earth.

"These things will take their own sweet time," he said. "The Earth's magnetic field is going to take three whacks." The CMEs are due to hit the planet at any moment, he said, and the effects of the magnetic storm they cause can result in the Northern Lights moving south, giving the Northeast a chance at seeing an aurora borealis on Thursday night. The chance of seeing an aurora diminishes greatly after Thursday night.

The CMEs can also cause communications and GPS devices to malfunction, he said.

Whether anyone will see the lights depends on a variety of factors, Kunches said, including the brightness in the sky, city lights and cloudiness.

"It's a long shot, but who knows," he said. "I wouldn't put money on it." Kunches said the full moon that will be in Thursday night's sky will make seeing anything more difficult.

In the Capital Region, Thursday night's sky is forecasted to be mostly cloudy, with a 30 percent chance of showers beginning at 9 p.m. That weather further decreases chances of seeing any auroras.

The chance of seeing an aurora diminishes greatly after Thursday.

To see more of the Times Union, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to Copyright (c) 2011, Times Union, Albany, N.Y.

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