A guide who helps tourists see auroras in Sweden recently captured jaw-dropping views of the northern lights himself, showing the ethereal lights dancing above a snowy landscape.
Photographer Oliver Wright posted a video showing a geomagnetic storm that lit up skies over Abisko, Sweden, on March 14. In the video, which you can see here on YouTube, a vast, shimmering curtain of purple, green and white light extends from the horizon up to directly overhead, changing shape and intensity rapidly. The stars of the Big Dipper shine behind the northern lights (also known as the aurora borealis) as Wright narrates the breathtaking view. [Amazing Auroras: Photos of Earth's Northern Lights]
"Totally amazing aurora tonight (the forecast was right) whilst guiding for Lights Over Lapland," Wright wrote on the video's YouTube page. "Multiple coronas (i.e., superfast-moving auroras straight above us) — possibly the best I've ever seen."
"The camera used was a Canon 5div, and I had to shoot the video at ISO 25600 to make the sensor sensitive enough to video the aurora," Wright added in an email to Space.com. Wright also works for the aurora tourism company Lights Over Lapland, which offers tours to see the northern lights in Sweden.
Auroras occur because of the sun's activity. The sun emits a constant stream of charged particles that flow along Earth's magnetic field and interact with gas molecules high in Earth's atmosphere. The charge "excites" the atmospheric gas molecules and causes them to produce light. It's common to see auroras in the high north (or south) of the planet, where Earth's magnetic field lines converge.
During times of increased solar activity, auroras can get more intense and extend into lower latitudes than usual. On March 14 and 15, solar particles from the sun bombarded Earth to amplify the northern lights display in an event that scientists call a geomagnetic storm. Auroras were expected to be visible from the northern tier states of the United States, such as Maine and Michigan, according to the Space Weather Prediction Center of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
"In my four years of guiding, it really was an amazing night of multiple coronas and fast-moving auroras," Wright said. "As you can see in the video, it just got brighter and faster. I had to stop the video, though, as my hands started to get really cold."