Northern Lights may be visible today in Tri-Cities

By the Tri-City Herald August 6, 2011 

If you were scanning the night sky Friday, you may have seen the Northern Lights above the Tri-Cities.

And if you didn't see them, watch tonight.

Joe Kunches, space scientist for NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center, said the chances of seeing the Northern Lights above the Tri-Cities were better than usual Friday and possibly again tonight.

"There is never any guarantee, but conditions ... look pretty good," he said.

The weather should cooperate, with clear skies over the Tri-Cities, and the moon is in its first quarter, which means that the sky is not too bright.

Two types of atmospheric eruptions have flared up on the sun since Tuesday, and the solar explosions have continued at a rate of almost one per day since then, Kunches said. The sun is experiencing solar flares, which act like lightning strikes that quickly disturb the atmosphere, and coronal eruptions, in which the sun's outer atmosphere called the corona gets blown off.

The matter spewed from the sun is charged with protons and electrons that travel millions of miles through space until they hit Earth's magnetic field to create an aurora.

Scientists predict the bulk of the particles from the coronal eruptions will enter the earth's atmosphere today, Kunches said.

Midnight is usually the best time to view the Northern Lights, but they may have been visible earlier Friday.

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