Spectacular northern lights across Canada

An intense burst of energy from the sun headed towards Earth on Thursday and was expected to make for spectacular conditions to see the northern lights across Canada.

Ruth Ann Chicoine, the Canadian Space Agency's national project manager for AuroraMAX, said a spot on the sun exploded Tuesday in what is known as a solar flare and sent out a sort of storm cloud called a coronal mass ejection.

Such storms collide with particles and gases in the Earth's atmosphere to create the northern lights, also known as the aurora borealis.

The solar storm was expected at around 3 a.m. EST Thursday, but Chicoine joked Thursday afternoon that it appeared to be "taking the panoramic route to Earth.''

The storm was finally spotted on its way at 2:32 p.m. EST Thursday.

"The good news is if the storm is actually (tonight), it might make for some spectacular conditions tonight to see the northern lights,'' she said in a phone interview from Saint Hubert.

The auroras form in an oval above the North and South poles, Chicoine explained.

In the northern hemisphere, a solar storm stretches the oval down towards southern latitudes and that's when the lights can be seen in such places as southern Ontario.

Chicoine said it's always tough to predict when solar storms will hit.

"Aurora scientists like to joke that aurora prediction is even less reliable than weather predictions ... It's hard to do,'' she said.

"We can't pinpoint exactly when this will hit us. We can't pinpoint exactly where the northern lights will be visible. But we can give a general idea. (On Wednesday), AuroraMAX issued a nationwide aurora alert, meaning that areas of the country in the southern regions, as far right down to the northern U.S. states, would be able to see the northern lights if this storm hits the way that we were predicting.''

There hasn't been a northern lights phenomenon like this in a year or two, she said.

The best viewing was expected in darker places, such as rural areas.

People in cities could have difficulty because of lights from buildings or street lamps.


Photo credit: Flickr

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