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Northern lights blaze again on video

Fresh solar winds made for a spectacular light show on Michigan's Upper Peninsula. NBC's Brian Williams reports.




Skywatchers as far south as Colorado and Kansas witnessed a quick flare-up of the northern lights this week, which called to mind the brilliant, beautiful displays that northerners saw earlier this year. The skies have settled down — for now — but developments on the sun suggest we could be in for another wave of auroral glories.

The greenish glow over Lake Superior, recorded from Michigan's Upper Peninsula at 2 o'clock in the morning by Shawn Malone of LakeSuperiorPhoto.com, was impressive enough to make NBC's "Nightly News" on Tuesday night. In an email, Malone told me that the "intensity caught me off guard."


"Check out the passing freighter for scale," Malone said in his comments on the Vimeo version of the video. "What a view those sailors must have had!"

Mark Riutta had a similar view from Copper Harbor Cabins on the Upper Peninsula, as the time-lapse video below illustrates. Riutta told me over the phone that he and his girlfriend were getting the cabins ready for the summer season and were surprised by how bright Tuesday's display turned out to be. "We were just about to go to sleep, when we looked out and wondered, 'Why is it so light out there?' he said.

SpaceWeather.com provides a roundup of auroral images from a dozen U.S. states, mostly in the Midwest but also including the top state for the northern lights, Alaska. And speaking of Alaska, here's an unconventional view of the aurora that was recorded from a height of 90,000 feet during "Project Aether: Aurora," a scientific experiment that took place this month:

 

A GoPro HD Hero2 camera captured this view of the northern lights, set against a backdrop of the curving Earth and the glow of sunlight at the horizon. A second Hero2 camera was placed in the frame and illuminated to serve as a reference point for the camera exposure (as well as a plug for GoPro).

Project Aether, led by University of Houston physicist Ben Longmier, sent up almost two dozen weather balloons laden with high-definition cameras and scientific instruments to monitor auroral activity near Fairbanks. Most of the payloads have been recovered, but the student researchers are still on the lookout for a few that haven't yet been located. If you happen to be in the Fairbanks area and find one of them, you could win a prize.

More prizes could be in store for aurora-watchers: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Space Weather Prediction Center reports that we're currently in the midst of a minor geomagnetic storm, which could spark another wave of northern lights. What's more, an active region of the sun known as AR1465 has developed the type of magnetic field that's associated with stronger X-class outbursts.

To keep tabs on the solar weather report, check in with SpaceWeather.com as well as the Space Weather Prediction Center's website and Facebook page. And to watch some classic auroral videos, check out the gallery offered by NASA's Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth.

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.