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Northern Lights Fizzle in US

The northern lights above a sign marking the edge of the Arctic Circle.
The northern lights above a sign marking the edge of the Arctic Circle. (Image credit: <a href="https://twitter.com/MikeTheiss">Mike Theiss</a> / National Geographic)

Those who braved the cold last night trying to catch a glimpse of the northern lights in the continental United States may have been disappointed; the effects of a sun storm bombarding Earth were weaker than expected and did not spark widespread auroral displays in the Lower 48.

But the northern lights did dazzle residents in some parts of northern Europe, such as Norway.

Hopes of aurora sightings were raised after an intense X1.2-class solar flare erupted from the sun earlier this week and a wave of plasma known as a coronal mass ejection, or CME, headed towards Earth. Solar particles from these blasts can trigger geomagnetic storms and auroras when they interact with Earth's magnetic field.

The CME hit Earth Thursday (Jan. 9) around 3:00 p.m. EST (20:00 UTC), Spaceweather.com reported. But by the time it was dark over North America, the lights that had danced over parts of Europe had faded. The effects of the solar storm also were weaker than expected, failing to produce widespread geomagnetic storms, which might have brought auroras to lower latitudes.

According to Spaceweather.com, auroras could still be possible in northerly climes on Friday (Jan. 10) as Earth travels through the wake of the CME.

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Megan Gannon
Megan has been writing for Live Science and Space.com since 2012. Her interests range from archaeology to space exploration, and she has a bachelor's degree in English and art history from New York University. Megan spent two years as a reporter on the national desk at NewsCore. She has watched dinosaur auctions, witnessed rocket launches, licked ancient pottery sherds in Cyprus and flown in zero gravity. Follow her on Twitter and Google+.