New Yorkers Getting Light Show Tonight, Courtesy of the Sun

Rare aurorae caused by recent solar flare- set to rival Broadway.

By Juan DeJesus
|  Wednesday, Aug 4, 2010  |  Updated 4:45 PM EDT
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New Yorkers Getting Light Show Tonight, Courtesy of the Sun

NASA/SDO

On August 1, 2010 around 0855 UT, Earth orbiting satellites detected a C3-class solar flare. The origin of the blast was sunspot 1092.

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Tonight, the bright lights of Broadway will not be the glitziest show in the night sky for a change.

Residents of New York as well as most of northern North America will be able to see aurorae, a celestial phenomenon only seen in areas close to Earth’s magnetic poles.

The sun has experienced two minor storms that flared up on Sunday Aug. 1st, and National Aeronautics and Space Administration captured the event on its Solar Dynamics Observatory that launched in February.  The storms have caused a coronal mass ejection of plasma made of electrons and protons that react with the Earth’s magnetic field.

New Yorkers watching the skies should look north this evening in hopes of seeing rippling "curtains" of green and red light.

"This eruption is directed right at us, and is expected to get here early in the day on August 4th," said astronomer Leon Glob of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. "It's the first major Earth-directed eruption in quite some time."

The storms come during a period in which our sun has been extremely quiet. This period is known in the astrological community as a solar minimum and is part of our suns natural cycle. The cycle usually lasts 11 years on average, and goes through slow periods or minimums and periods of large activity called maximums.

The recent solar minimum has been unnaturally calm. There have been literally no sunspots at all for large periods of time. The inactivity has gone on for about two years which scientists say is twice as long as the typical minimum

"People began to get nervous that the sun would never come out of it," says Golub.

The flare was classed as a “a C3-class solar flare, a solar tsunami” by Spaceweather.com. The website also noted a spike in activity on the suns surface with multiple filaments of magnetism lifting off the stellar surface with large-scale shaking of the solar corona followed by radio bursts, a coronal mass ejection and more.

When the plasma reaches Earth it will interact with our planet's magnetic field. This could trigger a geomagnetic storm that will cause solar particles to stream down the magnetic field lines toward the Earth's poles. When those particles collide with atoms of nitrogen and oxygen in the atmosphere they glow like miniature neon signs, said Golub.

Check out the event that triggered tonight's light here!

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