By Victoria Cavaliere
SEATTLE (Reuters) - Stargazers across a wide swath of the United States could get a rare view on Friday of the northern lights, a colorful cosmic display normally only visible in far northern latitudes.
The northern lights, or Aurora Borealis, was expected to be visible after dark on the East Coast from Maine to as far south as Maryland, and across large parts of Michigan and Iowa.
Forecasters said northwestern states including Idaho and Washington were expected to get the best view of the phenomenon, in which the sky is illuminated with streaks and swirls of green, red, blue and yellow.
The northern lights are the result of collisions between the Earth's gaseous particles and matter released by the Sun's atmosphere, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The collisions can jar the magnetosphere around the Earth's north and south poles, releasing colorful streams into the sky.
The solar flares that were sent towards Earth this week were very large, the NOAA said, indicating that the aurora will be visible at a far greater distance than normal.
"When activity picks up, it becomes brighter and the auroral oval expands towards the equator. During very large events, it is possible to see the aurora in the continental U.S.," it said.
The best time to view the lights are around midnight, and the activity could last for several evenings, forecasters said.
Areas with less cloud cover and less light pollution, such as rural areas or smaller towns, will have a better chance of capturing the intensity of the display, according to Canada's Northern Lights Center.
The solar flares can have another unusual effect, at times disrupting global positioning, radio, and satellite signals.
In the Southern Hemisphere, the phenomenon is called the Aurora Australis.
(Reporting by Victoria Cavaliere; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Doina Chiacu)