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Originally published March 7, 2012 at 6:51 PM | Page modified March 8, 2012 at 11:08 AM

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Northern lights may be visible Thursday in Western Washington

If clouds cooperate, Western Washington could get a glimpse of the aurora borealis on Thursday night.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Video: Northern lights late Tuesday night, early Wednesday morning

Video from YouTube user skunkbayweather, via Cliff Mass Weather Blog.

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With a little luck, residents of Western Washington could get a good view of the aurora borealis Thursday night.

A big solar flare, combined with a chance for clear skies over Western Washington on Thursday night, could offer up a rare chance to see the northern lights.

A solar eruption, the source of the phenomenon, is blasting Earth this week, offering up the chance to see the dancing lights. Still, a full moon might steal the show and make the lights difficult to see.

The eruption is the largest since December 2006, said Joe Kunches, a spokesman and space scientist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Space Weather Prediction Center.

A similar eruption in late January also gave Washingtonians a shot at seeing the aurora, normally visible only near the poles. But cloudy weather blocked the view during that solar eruption.

Eruptions send magnetic winds toward Earth's surface. Upon arrival, the wind interacts with oxygen and nitrogen electrons in Earth's magnetic field, which then give off red and green colors.

The increase in big eruptions, expected to peak next year, is thanks to a new solar-activity cycle. The sun was in a pretty dull cycle with minimal eruptions until about a year ago, Kunches explained.

Now, the surface is lighting up.

"The sun's done its part," Kunches said. "It had a big eruption. The local weather conditions are gonna be the issue: You live in Seattle."

Dennis D'Amico, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Seattle, said there is a decent chance of clear skies until the early hours of Friday morning, when cloud cover is expected to pick up.

On Wednesday night, Western Washington residents, particularly those south of Seattle, had a greater chance of getting a clear look, D'Amico said.

Kunches said weatherworn Washingtonians might be rewarded for braving the brisk evening.

"You've got a tough breed up there," he said. "Standing out there in the cold in the dark for a while, you might get lucky."

Information from The Associated Press was included in this report.

Lark Turner: 206-464-2761


On Twitter @larkreports

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