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Sky lights go wild, north and south

Jonina Oskarsdottir

Jonina Oskarsdottir captured this picture of the northern lights over Faskrudsfjordur, Iceland. "No words can describe the experience of the northern lights tonight," Oskarsdottir told SpaceWeather.com. She used a Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera to take the shot, with a Canon 14mm f/2.8L USM II lens set for ISO 1600 ... and a 1-second exposure.




The solar storm that sparked so much debate this week got its second wind overnight, rewarding aurora aficionados from the Arctic to the Lower 48 to Australia.

Jonathan Icasas

Jonathan Icasas snapped this picture of the northern lights at Beaver Lake Park in Redmond, Wash., at about 12:50 a.m. March 9, and posted it via Instagram. Icasas used a Canon EOS 1Ds Mark II with a Canon 24-105L lens. Icasas recalls that his settings were roughly f/5.6 for one minute of exposure in bulb mode at ISO 500 ("I think"). For more of Icasas' work, check out JIcasasPhotography.com.

We're almost getting used to great views of the northern lights from places like Iceland (see above), Scandinavia and Russia — but last night's lights were visible from the top tier of the United States as well.

"Simply the most spectacular sighting ever, for me," a skywatcher from Pierz, Minn., wrote in a note to the Auroral Activity Observation Network. "While the color was only green, I witnessed curtains and rays, with much shifting. Most incredible were the pulsations, about two per second, that extended to zenith. ... Simply magical."

Other sightings have come in from Washington state, Montana, North Dakota, Wisconsin and Michigan. Someone ever reported seeing a "very diffuse greenish glow" in the skies over Wyoming. "Would not have known that it was aurora if I wasn't paying attention to the current solar activity," the anonymous observer wrote.

Will tonight provide another southerly show? It's hard to predict, but the sunspot region that sent the big outburst our way, known as AR1429, appears to be growing and is sending out fresh blasts. Late Thursday, AR1429 shot out an M6.3-class flare, sending another coronal mass ejection toward Earth. That CME is expected to arrive early Sunday morning, "adding to the geomagnetic unrest already under way," SpaceWeather.com reported.

To figure out whether you have a chance of seeing the northern lights, keep an eye on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Ovation Auroral Forecast map as well as the University of Alaska's Aurora Forecast website. If you're in the aurora zone, you can maximize your chances by getting far away from city lights, finding a place with good northern exposure and keeping watch between "magnetic midnight" and dawn. Tonight will be tricky, because the glare from the just-past-full moon might interfere — but as these pictures illustrate, the view might well be worth the trouble.

Here are a few more auroral highlights, including an unusual time-lapse video view of the southern lights from Tasmania. For still more, check in with SpaceWeather.com:

CSA / AuroraMAX

The full moon shines out amid the aurora in a picture taken by the AuroraMAX all-sky camera near Yellowknife in Canada's Northwest Territories late March 8.

Aleksander Chernucho

An auroral display stretches over Russia's Kola Peninsula, around Mount Khibiny, in a picture taken by Aleksander Chernucho.

More auroral glories:


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.