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Video: Northern lights visible as far south as Arkansas

October 25, 2011 |  1:05 pm

  Forget going to Alaska for a view of the northern lights.

On Monday night, sky watchers across the United States could marvel at the reds and greens lighting the skies in the most unlikely of places -- including New Mexico, Tennessee, Missouri and Virginia.

The time-lapse video above was taken by Brian Emfinger in Ozark, Ark.

In fact, the sky-watching website Spaceweather.com reports that the northern lights were seen or photographed in more than half of the nation's states.

Incredible.

Usually the northern lights, also known as the aurora borealis, are visible only at far north latitudes — such as those in Canada and Alaska.

But this week, sky-watchers in the southern latitudes got lucky. What's known as a coronal mass ejection from the sun apparently hit Earth at about 2 p.m. EDT, which disturbed the Earth's magnetic field, which in turn caused the lights to migrate farther south than normal.

"When these charged particles [from the ejection] go by our own magnetic field, it's like dumping gasoline on a fire," Joe Kunches, a space scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said in an interview with The Times.  "Everything gets a lot hotter."

And that translates into a gorgeous aurora display that drips over the Canadian border and down into the continental United States.

Still, Kunches said, it is highly unusual for the northern lights to venture as far south as Arkansas.

"Why did we get so lucky in the United States to see these? It wasn't that the disturbance was all that strong," he said, "maybe the timing was just right for the western hemisphere. There were clear skies in the middle of the country, and it was just our lucky night as it were."

And here's the best news of all: The sun is expected to shoot an increasing amount of CMEs out in the next several years as solar flare season heats up. So if you missed this display, perhaps you'll be able to see another one sometime soon.

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-- Deborah Netburn

Video: A time lapse video of the aurora display from Ozark, Ark., filmed on Oct. 24 by Brian Emfinger.

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