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Caught on camera: this weekend's Northern Lights

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This past weekend, many people not accustomed to seeing the Northern Lights got a real treat when the Earth moved into a strong stream of the solar wind, sparking displays of aurora, also known as the Northern Lights. Unfortunately for some, seeing the Lights was an impossibility thanks to thick cloud cover.

Now for some good news: where the weather was good, people were taking pictures, which can be enjoyed by everyone.

Of all the astronomy-themed websites out there, Spaceweather may be the best when it comes to photo galleries for one simple reason: the galleries are created by the website's visitors, which means tons of cool images coming in from all over the world.

The aurora event of last weekend was no exception.

Come today, Spaceweather already has a huge gallery of aurora pictures. For even more good news, the gallery is sure to grow as more people start submitting their images. So, or everyone who missed out thanks to the hit and miss nature of the Lights, at least there is the Internet. Hopefully, come the time the next aurora event makes it down so far, you will be treated to a clear, dark sky.

Aurora are caused when the highly-charged particles of energy hit our upper atmosphere, interacting with Earth's magnetic field, causing individual charged atoms to emit light, creating the mult-colored curtains that are the Northern Lights. Also, solar storms can cause disruptions in electronic communications. In 1989, a solar storm was so strong that it knocked out power over a large part of Canada.

For us living in the Northern hemisphere, auroras are common in high latitudes such as Alaska, Canada, the Scandinavian countries, and other such high-latitude places. For those at mid latitudes, such as Cleveland's 41 degrees North, auroras don't find their way into these skies very often. However, there are exceptions, such as this last storm, which produced the Lights as far South as Michigan.

Unfortunately, predicting aurora, and more specifically, where exactly they will appear, is very much a guessing game. To help one's odds of seeing the Northern Lights, sign up for Spaceweather's phone alert system, which can be set to call you when aurora are predicted to be visible over your location, wherever that may be.

As always, would-be sky watchers in the Cleveland area should be sure to keep an eye on the Cleveland weather forecast and, for hour-by-hour cloud predictions, the Cleveland Clear Sky Clock. Live somewhere else? Find a clock and see if it will be clear near you.

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Want to read more of my stuff? Check out my other Examiner columns!
National Space News Examiner
Photography Examiner
Cleveland Photography Examiner

Want even more? Check out my personal websites:
The Nightly Sky
Bodzash Photography & Astronomy

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