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Solar flare stokes unexpected northern lights show in Northern Ireland

February 18, 2011|By Mary Forgione | Los Angeles Times Daily Travel & Deal blogger
(Martial Trezzini / Associated…)

Thanks to a powerful solar flare, the northern lights are on tour -- sort of. Locals and lucky travelers in Northern Ireland this week have seen the dazzling ribbons of color usually reserved for higher latitudes.

The reason? Particles from the solar flare that have started to rain down on Earth also have made the lights, a.k.a. the aurora borealis, visible to more people. (The magnetic showers expected to last to midday Friday also have the potential to down power grids and interrupt communications, according to this National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration update.)

The British Geological Survey's website reported that "already one CME [coronal mass ejection] arrived on the 14th sparking Valentine's Day displays of the northern lights (aurora borealis) further south than usual."

The BBC offers this lyrical description: "At a time of year when many evenings shed about as much light as an evasive spin doctor, the aurora borealis has been casting its spectacular celestial glow over large parts of the countryside."

Indeed. No wonder as of late Thursday, Twitter was buzzing with folks in Northern Ireland, Scotland and other northern stretches of Britain asking one another whether they had looked up and seen the lights.

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