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VIDEO: Stunning Northern Lights Captured Atop Mount Washington

There are a few times in life where you see something so spectacular that it takes your breath away. Rarely does that happen by watching a video, but that’s about to change. The scientists that live and work on Mount Washington — one of the most inhospitable environments on Earth — are normally conducting meteorological and climatological research. But last Friday they put down their scientific instruments and traded them for cameras. What they caught, is one of Mother Nature’s most spectacular light shows: The aurora borealis.

Set against the backdrop of nearby mountains and undercast — that’s where you’re located above the cloud layer — the entire spectrum of yellows, greens, reds and violets shimmered brilliantly in the cool, fall air. A true representation of the beauty of our planet

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Photo credit: Mount Washington Observatory, N.H.
(The incredible sight brought many observatory staffers out into the dead of night to watch the auroras dance along the horizon.)

What Causes Aurora Borealis?

While not necessarily a rare occurrence, this latest round of aurora was the result of a significant solar storm that emanated from the sun late last week. The solar storm and the resulting “coronal mass ejection,” were the cause of the out-of-this-world light show. There were at least three flares that erputed last week, the largest of which was a an “x-class” flare. According to spaceweatherlive.com an x-class flare is the second largest on the solar flare classification scale.

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Photo credit: Mount Washington Observatory, N.H.
(The aurora borealis lights up the night sky over New Hampshire on Sept. 12, 2014.)

The flare, and resulting coronal mass ejection, came from a group of sunspots that directly face the Earth. The CME sent billions of tons of charged particles hurtling toward Earth last Friday. Those charged particles interacted with the Earth’s magnetic field and were drawn poleward. The high-energy particles from the sun interact with nitrogen and oxygen particles and cause them to fluoresce, causing brilliant colors in the sky.

Spaceweather.com reports another coronal mass ejection could cause the aurora to once more fire up Tuesday night, but it’s unlikely to be as brilliant and spectacular as last week’s show.

Meteorologist Alan Raymond

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