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Spring greenery sprouts in the sky

Daniel Lopez

A mosaic of five images by Daniel Lopez (who managed to get into the picture just right of center) shows a panoramic view of Iceland's Vatnajokull Glacier.




As the season officially turns from winter to spring, there's still plenty of snow on the ground in the Arctic — but there's plenty of greenery up in the sky, thanks to an exceptional succession of northern lights.

The past month's brighter-than-usual auroras were pumped up by spurts of solar activity. When outbursts of electrically charged particles from the sun interact with Earth's magnetic field, they can create a green glow in the night sky. If the outbursts are too powerful, they can disrupt communication systems and electrical grids as well. Fortunately, the recent solar storms had minimal impact on earthly infrastructure.

What we're left with are wonderful pictures like these.

The super-wide-angle view from Iceland's Vatnajokull Glacier was captured on March 18 by Daniel Lopez, a photographer from the Canary Islands who can be seen pointing his camera skyward. This picture, which took the spotlight today as the Astronomy Picture of the Day, is actually a mosaic of five smaller photographs, stitched together into a 180-degree panorama.

For more of Lopez's wonderful work, check out his website, El Cielo de Canarias ("The Sky of the Canary Islands"). And for more greenery from northern skies, take a look at these stunners:

Sylvain Serre

Sylvain Serre snapped this wide-angle picture of the northern lights over Ivujivik in Quebec on March 18. "Incredible night in the land tonight," Serre told SpaceWeather.com. "The northern lights weren't there at the beginning, but after five minutes, they were coming as always. They were so strong that I had to try new adjustments for my camera." Serre used a Canon EOS 5D Mark II with a Canon 15mm fisheye lens, set at f/2.8 with a 2- to 3-second exposure at 4000-6400 ISO.

Chad Blakley of Lights Over Lapland has posted an amazing string of auroral displays from Sweden's Abisko National Park on the Vimeo website, including this view of the northern lights on March 19. Play the video at full screen for maximum effect.

More auroral glories:


For updated solar storm forecasts, check in with SpaceWeather.com as well as the Space Weather Prediction Center and the center's Facebook page.

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.