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Huge solar eruption could make for dazzling northern lights (+video)

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The CME "could produce aurora as far south as northern California and Alabama," C. Alex Young, a solar astrophysicist at NASA Goddard, told in an email update. "This would be into central UK and Europe or southern New Zealand."

"It could promise to be a great show of aurora," Young added. "I am hoping for some in Maryland."

Auroras result when charged particles from the sun collide with molecules high up in Earth's atmosphere, generating a glow. The northern and southern lights are usually restricted to high latitutes because Earth's magnetic field lines tend to funnel these particles over the planet's poles.

After remaining surprisingly quiet from 2005 through 2010, our star woke up last year. It has remained active in 2012, spouting off numerous CMEs and powerful solar flares, including an X5.4-class eruption in March.

Such outbursts are likely to continue over the next year or so. Solar activity waxes and wanes on an 11-year cycle, and scientists think the current one — known as Solar Cycle 24 — will peak in 2013.

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