Tripping the light fantastic

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The Independent Online
Solar storrms created a fantastic light show for people living around the Pacific over the weekend, when a bombardment of electrically charged particles thrown out by the Sun crashed into the Earth's atmosphere.

Solar storrms created a fantastic light show for people living around the Pacific over the weekend, when a bombardment of electrically charged particles thrown out by the Sun crashed into the Earth's atmosphere.

Residents in New Zealand saw the remarkable display of the "southern lights", the antipodean version of the aurora borealis, or "Northern Lights". From the ground they look like vast flickering curtains of green, yellow and even red lights in the sky, and can go on for hours. "They were like searchlight beams going overhead," said Ian Cooper, president of the Palmerston North Astronomical Society in New Zealand, who watched them.

The cause was an outpouring of charged particles thrown out by an eruption last week on the Sun's surface, where a huge sunspot called Noaa 9393, which is 140,000km (87,000 miles) across ­ large enough to swallow 13 Earths ­ has developed.

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