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Northern lights seen farther south than usual

By Ed Payne, CNN
updated 7:43 AM EDT, Tue October 25, 2011
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The northern lights are seen as far south as Atlanta and Memphis, Tennessee
  • The display typically happens once every three or four years
  • The light show is caused when a solar flare interacts with the earth's magnetic field

Editor's note: Are you there? Send us your photos

Atlanta (CNN) -- The northern lights came to the Deep South on Monday night, making them visible hundreds of miles farther south than they normally would be.

Scientists call it a coronal mass ejection. To the rest of us, the brilliant shades of green, orange and red that danced across the night sky might simply be called beautiful or eerie.

The northern tier of the United States -- places like Seattle, Minneapolis or Boston -- is normally the southern limit for the solar flares, meteorologist Jim Branda at the National Weather Service office in Memphis, Tennessee, said. But on Monday night, the display -- also known as the aurora borealis -- could be seen as far south as Oklahoma City, Memphis and Atlanta.

The light show was caused by a solar outburst.

"A storm on the sun's surface was blown off, and the solar wind scattered it," Branda said, explaining what created the natural light show. "The energy and magnetism interact with the earth's atmosphere and the magnetic field."

The Twitter universe lit up with comments.

Some said the display was "stunning," while others called it "wonderful."

Enjoy it while you can, Branda said.

The southern light show normally only happens once every three or four years. If the sky is cloudy, it might be seen only once every 10 years in southern states, according to Branda

CNN's Maggie Schneider contributed to this report

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