Night show: Aurora Borealis lights up sky


When Craig Jones took his dog for a midnight walk on Sunday, November 7, he saw a peculiar sight above his Covesville home.

"I saw what looked like a red haze in the northwest direction, then it looked like it was turning purple," Jones recalls. "There were streaks of light as if distant spotlights were shining for some grand opening."

"At first I thought it was a forest fire, or maybe an alien spacecraft," he says. Then the possibility of some kind of government testing crossed his mind. "I thought, "It's Dick Cheney's fault," he laughs.

It was none of the above. It was a rare Virginia example of the Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights. Seen most frequently in the far north of the hemisphere, the Aurora Borealis is caused by charged particles thrown off the sun that hit the earth's magnetic field, says UVA astronomy professor Ed Murphy.

The phenomenon, which happens about once a year in Virginia, is linked to activity on the sun's surface. A large solar "storm" erupted Sunday, Murphy explains, which sent gas hurtling toward the earth and resulted in the lovely light show.

"I feel really lucky to have seen it," says Jones.

If you missed out, Murphy says your best bet for a future Aurora Borealis sighting is to monitor solar flares by checking every day.

In this photo from a year ago, the Aurora Borealis gleamed over UVA's McIntire Observatory.