Forwarded by: fwestra@...
Original Date: Tue, 3 Apr 2001 00:43:12 +0200 (CEST)
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Sunday, 1 April, 2001, 16:28 GMT 17:28 UK
Solar storms spark light show
People in western parts of the United States have been treated to
impressive light shows in the night sky caused by intense storms
raging on the Sun.
Residents in Nevada, California, and Arizona witnessed a shimmering
display of the red and green Northern Lights on Friday night following
the eruption of solar flares.
Satellite readings show that the biggest sunspot cluster for at least
10 years has developed on the upper right quarter of the side of the
Sun visible from Earth.
The colourful shimmering glow of the Northern Lights occurs when
energetic particles resulting from the eruptions strike the Earth's
Colour and shape
Thousands of people in Nevada enjoyed what astronomers were describing
as the best display of the Northern Lights in at least 20 years.
Keith Johnson, associate director of the Fleischmann Planetarium at
the University of Nevada, Reno, said he had never seen such a luminous
display of the lights so far south.
He said the skies had begun to glow red, and then light-green coloured
rays had begun to appear as darkness fell on Friday.
He said: "It was sensational. You could see some actual colour, shape
and structure to the displays.
"I saw large lumps of light, rays of light and sheets of light. I even
saw some slow motion in them. The colours were obvious but not very
Mistaken for UFOs
Light from the solar flares was also reported near cities including
Palm Springs and Sacramento in California, Flagstaff, Arizona, and
Albuquerque and Carlsbad in New Mexico.
Bill Seigel, a producer at radio station KESQ in Palm Desert, east of
Los Angeles, said some callers to the station had thought the lights
"It has totally lit up the sky," he said. "We've had dozens and dozens
of calls. People want to know what it is."
In Eddy County, New Mexico, Deputy Danny Gonzales described the night
sky as a purple haze.
He said: "It was very distinct in colour. I have never seen anything
Meteorologist Anthony Watts, based in Chico, California, said the glow
from the solar eruptions was interesting, but did not pose any danger.
However, some disruption was expected to telecommunications and radio
and TV signals. On Friday, the eruptions triggered a brief blackout on
some high-frequency radio channels and low-frequency navigational
Clouds of gas
The sunspot group, which is a cooler, darker region on the Sun's
surface, is caused by a concentration of temporarily distorted
magnetic fields. This triggers tremendous eruptions into the Sun's
atmosphere, hurling clouds of electrified gas toward Earth.
This particular sunspot group, designated Noaa 9393, is about 140,000
km (86,800 miles) in diameter, according to the National Science
It is so big that it can be seen by unaided, providing filters are
used to protect the eyes from damage, the NSF says.
Although very large by normal standards, Noaa 9393 falls some way
short of the largest ever recorded. That title is held by a spot group
which appeared in 1947. It was three times larger than Noaa 9393.
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