Over the last few days, the Earth has been buffeted by a geomagnetic storm caused by a major solar flare. In addition to disruptions in radio, telecommunications, and electric service, the flare may also produce a dramatic light show as it peaks tonight. Weather permitting, the aurora borealis, or northern lights, may be visible as far south as Washington, D.C. The best viewing time will be local midnight. The sun is currently at the peak of its eleven-year solar cycle, spawning flares and "coronal mass ejections" (CME), violent outbursts of gas from the sun's corona that can carry up to 10 billion tons of electrified gas traveling at speeds as high as 2000 km/s. Geomagnetic storms result when solar winds compress the magnetosphere, sometimes interfering with electric power transmission and satellites, but also creating beautiful aurorae, as many stargazers hope will occur tonight.
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