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The sun sends Earth a valentine

The skies over Canada's Northwest Territories glow red and green during an auroral display before dawn on Valentine's Day, as seen by the Canadian Space Agency's all-sky AuroraMAX camera.




A mild solar storm swept over our planet just in time for Valentine's Day, sparking another wave of wonderful northern lights. This view, captured by the Canadian Space Agency's AuroraMAX all-sky camera, shows a pinkish-greenish glow over Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories.


During February and March, the AuroraMAX Online Observatory is running a pilot project with the International Space Station, aimed at sharing and comparing imagery of Canada's northern lights. The astronauts on the space station are on the lookout for auroral displays over Canada — and in fact, they've been sending some fantastic views down to Earth over the past week or two. The public will be able to compare the pictures from Yellowknife with the views from space.

You can catch AuroraMAX's latest stunners on the project's Twitpic page, and sign up for Twitter alerts from @AuroraMAX. The space agency's partners include the University of Calgary, the City of Yellowknife and Astronomy North. For imagery from the International Space Station, your best bet is the Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth.

The latest upswing auroral activity is due to a heart-shaped burst of electrically charged particles that was thrown off from the sun over the weekend. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Space Weather Prediction Center says there's a slight chance of seeing a significant outburst over the next day or so. SpaceWeather.com has a similar outlook. "The sun is peppered with sunspots, but none of them is actively flaring," SpaceWeather's Tony Phillips reports.

For now, the most significant effects of solar storming are the Valentine's Day lights visible from Scandinavia, Canada and Alaska. Check out the picture from Alaska photographer Marketa Stanczykova, as well as the Vimeo video from Chad Blakley, who has been capturing stunning views for his Lights Over Lapland website from Abisko National Park in Sweden:

Marketa Stanczykova

Alaska resident Marketa Stanczykova captured this view of the northern lights on Feb. 13. She said she and her "favorite photographer," Ronn Murray, were on a cross-country ski outing when they saw the aurora lighting up the sky. "We quickly decided to go to Moose Mountain, very near to Fairbanks," she told SpaceWeather.com. "The aurora was magical, like always..."

Watch for more fireworks as the sun approaches the peak of its 11-year activity cycle. Here are links to past highlights:


Alan Boyle is msnbc.com's science editor. Connect with the Cosmic Log community by "liking" the log's Facebook page, following @b0yle on Twitter or adding Cosmic Log's Google+ page to your circle. You can also check out "The Case for Pluto," my book about the controversial dwarf planet and the search for other worlds.