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Seeing the lights

The Northern Lights danced across the sky over Baker Valley Friday. (Photograph by Jon Croghan).
The Northern Lights danced across the sky over Baker Valley Friday. (Photograph by Jon Croghan).

By JAYSON JACOBY

Of the Baker City Herald

Randy Dodson had no idea what he was seeing, but he sure was impressed.

Dodson and his wife, Amy, were relaxing in the hot tub at their South Baker City home Friday night when they noticed a deep red glow growing in the northeast sky.

Their eyes followed the glow as it crept to the west until it eventually seemed to fill the sky.

It looked as if the town was on fire it was that type of glow, Randy Dodson said. We had no idea what we were watching, but we were duly impressed, anyway.

The Dodsons watched the red glow until it faded about half an hour later.

At one point during the aerial show, Randy Dodson said, he mentioned to his wife that maybe they were watching the Northern Lights.

But he said Amy had seen the phenomenon before, in Montana, and she told him the glow over Baker City Friday didnt resemble the sight she remembered.

For one thing, the couple saw only that one color, Randy Dodson said.

Nor did they see the streaks and shifting colors usually attributed to the Northern Lights.

It wasnt until Saturday night that the Dodsons found out that Randy was right, and that what they had watched the preceding evening was indeed the famous Aurora Borealis.

They were visiting with friends Phill Charette and his wife, Vicki McConnell, both of whom had seen the Northern Lights in Alaska and watched Friday nights show over Baker City.

Charette, who lived in Fairbanks for 14 years, said he and his wife noticed the red glow over Baker City while walking home after dinner about 9 p.m. Friday.

In town you wouldnt think youd see them because of the light pollution, but they were so bright spectacular, he said.

Charette said he and his wife grabbed their digital camera and drove east of Baker City to Flagstaff Hill, where they spent the next couple of hours watching the lights and listening to coyotes howl.

It made us feel like we were back in Alaska, he said.

Although Fridays lights werent as agile as the dancing Aurora Borealis he sometimes saw in Alaska, Charette said he had never seen Northern Lights as red as the ones over Baker City.

He said there were also green lights mixed in.

The Northern Lights are rarely seen in this region. The lights are created as a result of a large geomagnetic storm taking place on the surface of the sun near a huge sunspot labeled 9393.

The sunspot, which covers an area 13 times larger than the surface of the Earth, had two massive eruptions occur earlier this week that sent electrified gas particles hurling toward Earth. After a three-day journey, the particles struck the outer layers of Earths protective atmosphere Friday evening, producing the dancing colors that were seen as far south as Mexico.

Southern Oregon residents enjoyed the view this weekend, with shimmering curtains of red and green appearing in the skies over the Klamath Basin Friday and Saturday nights.

It was a very spectacular sight, said Noel Lane, operator of the Lane Observatory in Chiloquin. I have seen the Northern Lights in Alaska and Canada, and these were as intense as any Ive witnessed.

Several Internet sites track solar activity and predict periods when the Northern Lights are most likely to be visible in the United States.

Charette recommends the site for the Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks.

The institutes web site is at www.gi.alaska.edu.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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