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Storm from space sparks greatest light show on Earth

The solar storm that swept past Earth over the weekend didn't disrupt any power grids, but it did turn on the auroral lights for skywatchers over a wide swath of North America, extending at least as far down as Arkansas. cataloged stunning photos from the usual places in northern climes, including Canadian provinces as well as the northern tier of the United States. But this particular solar storm — sparked by last Thursday's big coronal mass ejection, or CME — didn't stop there. Photographers sent in pictures from Arkansas as well as Ohio, Nebraska, Utah, California and other locales well south of the usual places. There were auroral images as well from Scotland, Hungary, and yes, from New Zealand, Tasmania and the South Pole at the other end of the world.

Observers knew they were in for something big, due to the fact that the flare associated with the solar eruption reached an extreme level of X1.4 on the classification scale for solar outbursts. The radio blast from a sunspot region known as AR 1520 resulted in a strong radio blackout for some high-frequency communication systems, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Space Weather Prediction Center.

Extreme solar storms have been known to knock out electrical grids as well as satellites, but this one apparently had no ill effects. Today, the prediction center said the stormy space weather "is finally showing signs of weakening."

"No further significant activity has occurred, and while Region 1520 has become less of a threat, it still has the potential for further activity," the center reported.

The sun is heading toward the high point of its 11-year activity cycle, with the maximum expected next year. That means this weekend's storm could just be a foretaste of what's ahead for aurora-watchers and space weather forecasters over the coming months. In the meantime, check out this gallery featuring the latest pictures from the world's greatest light show:

More auroral glories:

Alan Boyle is's science editor. Connect with the Cosmic Log community by "liking" the log's Facebook page, following @b0yle on Twitter and adding the Cosmic Log page to your Google+ presence. To keep up with Cosmic Log as well as's other stories about science and space, sign up for the Tech & Science newsletter, delivered to your email in-box every weekday. You can also check out "The Case for Pluto," my book about the controversial dwarf planet and the search for new worlds.