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Northern lights shine with the moon

Jonathan Tucker

Jonathan Tucker's Sept. 30 photo captures the aurora's reflection in the Yukon lake below. For more of Tucker's work, check out Tucker's gallery on 500px.com,


The good news is that the northern lights hit the heights this weekend, with auroral displays visible as far south as Illinois — and the bad news wasn't all that bad. Sure, the glare of the "Harvest Moon" interfered somewhat, but you could argue that the moonlight added some extra shine to the show.

The northern lights are such a subtle phenomenon that they're best seen from the countryside, far from city lights, and that was the case for Jonathan Tucker, who captured the "September Lights" you see above on Sunday night, near Whitehorse in Canada's Yukon Territory.

"I was sitting at home, and when I looked out my window I noticed the northern lights were out," he told SpaceWeather.com, "so I grabbed my camera and went to a close spot that would be away from city lights. The auroras didn't last long, but I got this shot."


Meanwhile, on Michigan's Upper Peninsula, Lake Superior Photo's Shawn Malone was heading home from work and watching the moon rise when he noticed spikes of greenish light to the south.

"Immediately looked to the north, and the sky was on fire," Malone told SpaceWeather.com. "Light every direction, multiple arcs at the same time overhead and to the south — had a hard time deciding which way to point the camera!"

Another Upper Michigander, Mark Riutta of Defined Visuals, caught what he called a "mild display of aurora activity" over the Portage Canal in Houghton, Mich.

"I wish it was a little better show, but once the almost full moon got higher in the sky, it seemed to diminish the aurora's intensity," Riutta, whose  told me in an email.

Shawn Malone / LakeSuperiorPhoto.com

The sky is aglow during an auroral display over Michigan's Central Upper Peninsula. For more photos from Shawn Malone, check out LakeSuperiorPhoto.com.

Not to worry, Mark: What you saw was a sight that would make folks like me green with envy. Generally speaking, the best time to see an aurora would be around midnight, from a dark location with clear skies. The higher your latitude, the better. But timing is everything: It does no good to go out to an aurora-viewing spot if there's no aurora. You have to get out and look north (or look south, if you're in Australia, New Zealand or Antarctica) when geomagnetic activity is high — as it was on Sunday night.

Even if you missed Sunday's show, there are more auroral extravaganzas to come, thanks in part to the current upswing in the 11-year solar activity cycle. Keep a watch on the Space Weather Prediction Center's website and Facebook page — and for the current word on space weather, as well as pictures from past auroral displays, you can't do any better than SpaceWeather.com

More about the aurora season:


Alan Boyle is NBCNews.com's science editor. Connect with the Cosmic Log community by "liking" the log's Facebook page, following @b0yle on Twitter and adding the Cosmic Log page to your Google+ presence. To keep up with Cosmic Log as well as NBCNews.com's other stories about science and space, sign up for the Tech & Science newsletter, sent via email every weekday. You can also check out "The Case for Pluto," my book about the dwarf planet and the search for new worlds.