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Christmas Gift Guide

The sky spectacle

'Truly amazing'

Aurora australis

Northern lights oval

Glowing over Greenland

Northern lights in Tallinn

Illuminating the Alaskan pipeline

Norway's Northern Lights

Aurora borealis in Sweden

Swedish Lapland's Northern Lights

In awe

2013 is shaping up to be a memorable time to view the sky spectacle known as the Northern Lights. The lights are the result of electrically charged particles from the sun bouncing into each other as they enter Earth's atmosphere. Also known as the Aurora Borealis in northern latitudes, or the Aurora Australis (or the southern lights), depending upon the pull of the Earth's magnetic field.
Caption by / Photo by Getty Images
The Northern Lights photographed from the International Space Station. Astronaut Mike Hopkins, aboard the ISS, shared this picture on October 9, 2013, saying, "The pic doesn't do the Northern Lights justice. Covered the whole sky. Truly amazing!" To paraphrase the immortal Smokey Robinson, we second that emotion.
Caption by / Photo by NASA
Aurora australis over Tasmania, photographed from the International Space Station.
Caption by / Photo by NASA
The Northern Lights occur in a circular band around the geomagnetic north pole, otherwise known as the Northern Lights oval. It is a result of the atmosphere shielding the Earth against solar particles which would otherwise make the planet uninhabitable. On their way down toward the geomagnetic poles, the solar particles are stopped by Earth's atmosphere, which acts as an effective shield against these deadly particles. When the solar particles are stopped by the atmosphere, they collide with the atmospheric gases present, and the collision energy between the solar particle and the gas molecule is emitted as a photon -- a light particle. And when you have many such collisions, you have an aurora -- lights that may seem to move across the sky.

In this image, the Aurora Borealis glows in the sky in the Greenland town of Kangerlussuaq.

Caption by / Photo by Getty Images
The Aurora Borealis glows over a lake near the Greenland town of Kangerlussuaq.
Caption by / Photo by Getty Images
This picture shows the Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights, seen in Tallinn.
Caption by / Photo by Getty Images
A full moon helps illuminate the Alaskan pipeline under the faint glow of the Aurora Borealis near Milne Point, Alaska.
Caption by / Photo by Getty Images
The Aurora Borealis is pictured near the city of Tromsoe, northern Norway.
Caption by / Photo by Getty Images
The Aurora Borealis brightens up the sky at twilight between the towns of Are and Ostersund, Sweden.
Caption by / Photo by Getty Images
The Northern Lights in Abisko, Swedish Lapland.
Caption by / Photo by Getty Images
Swedes watch a display of Aurora Borealis, Northern Lights, in the city of Ostby.
Caption by / Photo by Getty Images
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