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When did the Northern Lights shine over Wilmington’s downtown?

Si Cantwell
StarNews

The Battleship Memorial is flanked by an evening display of Northern Lights, or the aurora borealis, late Monday evening. Local photographer Conrad Pope shot the display from the battleship parking lot just after 11pm.

Q. Many years ago the StarNews had a picture of downtown Wilmington on the front page, with aurora borealis in the background. When was this taken?

A. That story and photo ran in November 2001.

The photo was by Conrad Pope, a local photographer still active in Wilmington.

Here’s the story that ran in the StarNews about the celestial show:

Northern Lights shine in Southern sky

Published: 11/07/2001, Page: 1B

Caption: Conrad Pope. The Battleship North Carolina is flanked by an evening display of northern lights, or the aurora borealis, late Monday evening. Local photographer Conrad Pope shot the display from the battleship parking lot just after 11 p.m.

By Si Cantwell, Staff Writer

The aurora borealis made a return engagement Monday night over Southeastern North Carolina.

A “coronal mass ejection” – a great big chunk of the sun – was blown off the sun’s surface Sunday and reached the earth at about 8:50 p.m. Monday. The arriving solar wind interacted with the earth’s magnetic fields to produce a light show that could be seen as far south as Florida, Texas and California, according to Spaceweather.com.

Down at the Fort Fisher recreation area, three chilly observers saw an intense red ball of light low in the northwestern sky at about 11:45 p.m.

It faded a bit, then re-emerged around 12:15 a.m. Tuesday as a large sheet of fainter red light stretching from the western horizon to almost directly overhead.

Back in April 2000, observers saw an impressive display of the northern lights as the sky glowed red, white, green and blue over dark parts of Pender County.

Such lights are difficult to see in the city because of interference from what astronomers consider to be poorly designed lighting that sends light up into the sky instead of shining it down where it’s needed.

According to NASA’s science site, auroral displays are most likely to take place in spring and fall, partly because of the way the earth’s poles are tilted in relation to the interplanetary magnetic field that fills our solar system.

The sun is now on the backside of an 11-year peak of sunspot activity.

Storms many times the size of Earth rage across the sun’s surface, occasionally throwing off large masses of hot gaseous material traveling fast enough to escape the sun’s gravity.

Spaceweather.com said the geomagnetic storm was subsiding Tuesday, but some auroras may be visible north of the 50th parallel.

Wilmington is located just north of the 34th parallel.

RELATED LINKS:

What are the orange lights in the sky at night off Oak Island?

Where should I go to view the stars?

User-contributed question by:
Dan Sullivan

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