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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) -- An odd display lit up the dark night skies above some parts of California Friday.

As the darkness fell the skies began to glow red.

Residents in Sacramento flooded media outlets with reports of the luminous display. Reports came in from Palm Desert as well.

"It has totally lit up the sky. We've had dozens and dozens of calls. People want to know what it is," said Bill Seigel, a producer at radio station KESQ in Palm Desert. "Some people thought it was UFOs."

The glow came from a powerful solar flare that erupted Thursday.

The eruptions triggered a blackout Friday on some radio channels and low-frequency navigational signals, scientists said.

Anthony Watts, a meteorologist at radio station KHSL in Chico, said the glow from the coronal mass ejection was interesting, but posed no threat.

"There's no danger, however there is the likelihood that we'll have radio or television interruptions."

-- spider (, March 31, 2001


-- spider (, March 31, 2001.

Saturday, 31 March, 2001, 05:14 GMT 06:14 UK Earth hit by solar storm

Telecommunications may be disrupted briefly and the northerly night skies will shimmer red and green this weekend as intense storms rage on the sun, scientists say. The biggest sunspot cluster seen in at least 10 years has developed on the upper right quarter of the side of the sun visible from Earth, according to satellite readings.

Nasa scientists said the most powerful flare erupted on Thursday, but it takes 24 to 36 hours for the effects to be felt on earth.

It was rated a class X, the most potent category of sunspot, the other flares were less intense.

The eruptions triggered a powerful, but brief, blackout on Friday on some high-frequency radio channels and low-frequency navigational signals.

The flares are expected to persist for several days and experts are predicting that there is at least a 30% chance of disruptions continuing through until Sunday.

The solar activity is also expected to produce an aurora in the night sky over northern latitudes.

Damage on the ground

The colourful, shimmering glow occurs when the energetic particles strike the Earth's upper atmosphere.

In addition to radio disruptions, the charged particles can bombard satellites and orbiting spacecraft and, in rare cases, damage industrial equipment on the ground, including power generators and pipelines.

The sunspot, which is a cooler, darker region on the sun's surface, is caused by a concentration of temporarily distorted magnetic fields.

It spawns tremendous eruptions, or flares, into the sun's atmosphere, hurling clouds of electrified gas toward Earth.

Monster sunspot

Geoff Elston, director of the solar section of the British Astronomical Association (BAA), has been studying the monster sunspot, Noaa 9393, for several days.

"It is definitely the largest we have seen for a long time, probably for many decades," he told BBC News Online. "It has overtaken the size of the most recent large one that occurred in March 1989."

Although very large by normal standards, Noaa 9393 is way short of the all-time record holder.

That title is held by a spot group, which appeared in 1947. It was three times larger than Noaa 9393.

-- Martin Thompson (, March 31, 2001.

Why is the sky glowing?

Chicoans treated to rare spectacle of northern lights

By ROGER H. AYLWORTH - Staff Writer

It began with a cataclysmic eruption on the face of the sun, sending untold tons of charged subatomic particles and x-rays hurtling toward earth. By now this solar torrent has slammed into the atmosphere.

And you may have noticed that Friday night.

According to NASA scientists, a massive solar flare, the largest in a decade, erupted from the face of the sun Thursday.

Among effects of such a bombardment are the shimmering northern lights.

They are normally restricted to the upper latitudes, but the larger the solar flare, the further south the spectacle can be seen. Even so, they're almost never seen from areas as far south as Chico.

Almost never.

Friday night proved to be the exception.

About 10:30 p.m., Chicoans began noticing strange things in the sky. Police radios crackled with officers wondering what the odd glow was. Chicoans flooded the E-R with calls, wanting to know what was going on. Some saw shimmering lights. Others saw a red glow in the sky.

The northern lights happen when the charged subatomic particles collide with the upper atmosphere and create curtains of multi- colored illumination in the sky.

NASA ranks flares by their intensity and this one is the most powerful - an "x-class" eruption. Historically such flares have disrupted radio broadcasts and communications satellites, and caused problems with the power grid.

Mike Madden, Butte County's emergency services officer and an amateur astronomer, said flares tend to cause problems with the sort of radio transmissions that bounce of the ionosphere, like ham broadcasts and AM commercial radio.

Police, fire and other emergency radios tend to be "line-of-sight" signals that do not involve the ionosphere.

Madden said in the past, flares could trigger power outages, but that should not be a particular problem this time.

"The power grid has been pretty well taken care of," he said, explaining the "last hurrah for Y2K preparations kind of fixed our power grid."

If the flare poses any problems at all, Madden said he expects those to crop up in credit card and ATM transactions.

He said some businesses have small satellite links for their credit card ATM operations, and there could be some disruption in this sort of communication.

-- Martin Thompson (, March 31, 2001.

-- spider (, April 01, 2001.

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