South gets rare view of aurora borealis

Published: Oct. 25, 2011 at 3:58 PM EDT|Updated: Nov. 4, 2011 at 4:17 PM EDT
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UNDATED (RNN) - The mid-South was surprised Monday night with a rare sighting of the phenomenon known as the aurora borealis, or Northern Light, and forecasters say the effect could make a second appearance tonight.

Reported sightings of the aurora trickled in from Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee and as far south as northern Arkansas and Mississippi, according to the National Weather Service (NWS).

One viewer reported seeing the aurora in Corning, AR.

Monday's aurora was rare because of how far south its glow could be witnessed. The aurora is typically viewed at high latitudes because the Earth's magnetic field is strongest at its poles, according to the NWS.

The phenomenon is created when energetic particles in the sun's solar wind interact with gases in the magnetic field in the Earth's upper atmosphere.

"This is the same principal as how a neon sign lights up," writes the NWS on its website. "As electrons pass through the neon tubing, they glow, thus producing the light in a neon sign."

The color of the aurora depends on the energy of the particle as it hits the gas. Auroras tend to appear greenish yellow in color, and occasionally red along their tops and bottoms. In rare cases, they can appear "faint blue" or "deep blood red," according to a pamphlet issued by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

[Click here to read the pamphlet.]

According to NOAA, there are many legends associated with the aurora, which is said to portend a royal birth, ghosts or the onslaught of war.

"The Eskimos of North America believed that if you whistled at the aurora it would sweep down and take you from thee Earth; by clapping your hands you could force it to retreat," NOAA's brochure says.

If an aurora borealis is seen in the Southern Hemisphere, it is known as an aurora australis.

Forecasters predict the aurora borealis could make another appearance in the night sky Tuesday and possibly Wednesday night.

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