Solar Flares May Bring Major Aurora, Minor Disruptions

March 8, 2012; 8:06 PM ET
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(Image of an aurora borealis by Roman Krochuk/

A series of solar flares this week may yield additional episodes of the aurora borealis (Northern Lights).

Areal coverage of the displays produced by each coronal mass ejection are difficult to gauge ahead of time. The Northern Lights were visible over part of the Great Lakes region Wednesday night.

The best chance for viewing the show tonight, if the Earth's magnetosphere cooperates, will be in the northern Plains, part of the Midwest and much of the West.

There will be a nearly full moon tonight, which could detract from viewing the show somewhat. However, the display was still impressive last night, despite the full moon.

Experts at Space state that not only do the magnetic storms unleashed by the flares cause the aurora borealis, but they can be somewhat disruptive.

The expanse of the Northern Lights and disruptions depend on whether or not the flare directly strikes the Earth versus a glancing blow, as well as the strength of the coronal mass ejection itself.

In the extreme case, there can be brief disruptions to radio and gps signals.

Space Weather indicates that a strong magnetic storm can cause satellite onboard computer systems to reboot.

As a precaution, some commercial flights will reroute their trips from polar regions.


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