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Northern lights make for must-see TV

The northern lights glow green and red in a time-lapse view recorded from the International Space Station on Jan. 22.




The aurora's glow makes for thrilling photographs, but let's face it: The shimmer of the northern lights is a big part of the appeal. Here are three time-lapse video views looking at the northern lights from above and below, plus still-photo highlights from the past day or two.


The International Space Station's view of the green and red aurora was recorded back on Jan. 22, but the clip is part of a batch of seven night-flight videos released on Thursday via the Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth. The shots were snapped as the station soared from the Pacific Ocean, west of San Francisco, northeast across the United States toward Saskatchewan in Canada. The camera is looking northward, and to my mind, the presence of the station's solar panels and robotic arm in the foreground is a plus, not a minus. For a sharper version, go directly to the high-resolution QuickTime video.

The aurora most commonly takes on a greenish hue, but when electrically charged particles from the sun interact with atomic oxygen at higher altitudes — say, up to 200 miles — the glow turns red.

The past week has been a godsend for aurora-watchers, thanks to a series of outbursts from an active region on the sun, but now the solar storms have settled down. Observers caught the tail end of the heightened activity on Thursday night in regions of Scandinavia, Iceland, Scotland, Greenland and North America, as well as Australia, New Zealand and Antarctica in the south. Check SpaceWeather.com as well as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Space Weather Prediction Center for updates. And check out this album of videos and photos from all over:

Icelandic photographer Olafur Haraldsson posted this fantastic aurora collection from March 15 on Vimeo. Haraldsson says the clip still needs some tinkering "and some nice music to go with it," but I think it's fine just the way it is, particularly at full screen in HD.

Here's a far subtler view of the aurora as seen from Maywick Beach in the Shetland Islands on March 15 by Alan of the North and posted on Vimeo. The time-lapse video condenses 18 minutes of observations into 32 images, looped seven times at 10 frames per second.

Iurie Belegurschi

Iceland's Iurie Belegurschi offers this stunning picture of the aurora with the Venus-Jupiter conjunction shining in the sky, off to the right. For more of Belegurschi's photography, check out his Facebook page.

Andrei Penescu

Andrei Penescu captured this view of the northern lights on March 15 from Kangerlussuaq, Greenland. "Tonight was very special because it was the first time I've seen the sky full of red auroras. ... It was the best aurora show I've ever seen!" Penescu told SpaceWeather.com. Check out the gallery at SpaceWeather.com.

Minoru Yoneto

A red and purple auroral display lights up the skies over Queensland, New Zealand, in this March 16 view from Minoru Yoneto. "The auroras danced until sunrise," Yoneto told SpaceWeather.com. Check out the imagery on SpaceWeather.com.

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.