updated 9/20/2010 5:22:39 PM ET 2010-09-20T21:22:39

Aching to see the dazzling aurora displays that make up the northern lights, but can't get to the Arctic Circle to see them? Don't worry, a new Internet show has you covered.

The new web-based observatory AuroraMAX will go live tonight (Sept. 20) to broadcast real-time views of eye-catching northern lights, called the aurora borealis, as part of an outreach project by the Canadian Space Agency.

"Armchair skywatchers everywhere can now discover the wonder of the northern lights live on their home computer screen," space agency chief Steve MacLean said in an announcement. "We hope that watching the dance of the northern lights will make you curious about the science of the sky and the relationship we have with our own star, the sun." 

The Canadian Space Agency teamed up with the University of Calgary, the skywatching publication Astronomy North and the city of Yellowknife, which is about 318 miles (512 km) south of the Arctic Circle. According to the city's web site, Yellowknife is "known for our outdoor recreation, midnight sun, aurora borealis and an unusual blend of northern culture."

The AuroraMAX website will include tips on how to observe auroras, explanations on why they occur, and highlight Canadian research into the relationship between the sun and Earth that leads to the dazzling sky shows. Photo galleries and videos of the phenomenon will also be included. A recap of each night will be broadcast on the following day.

Auroras occur when charged particles from the sun are funneled toward Earth by the planet's magnetic field and collide with the upper atmosphere near the poles. They are more active when the sun's activity peaks during its 11-year solar weather cycle. The sun is currently entering an active phase of its present cycle, so astronomers expect the northern lights to be more common and more dazzling over the next couple of years.

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In addition to the aurora borealis in the north, the South Pole region also sees its own aurora displays, called the aurora australis.

In Canada, the peak of the aurora season typically runs from late August to May, because the nights are longer. The auroras themselves occur all year.

"The reason we classify August through May as the 'aurora watch' season is because of the extended number of 'dark' hours in Canada," aurora researcher Emma Spanswick of the University of Calgary told SPACE.com in an e-mail. "From an instrumentation perspective, the cameras we use to observe the aurora (like the AuroraMAX camera) are very sensitive. They are only able to operate when the sun is at least 12 degrees below the horizon … and in Northern Canada, that only happens between the months of August and May."

The AuroraMAX observatory will broadcast views of the northern lights through the sun's peak activity period, called solar maximum, which is expected in 2013, researchers said.

To see the AuroraMAX broadcasts, visit: http://www.asc-csa.gc.ca/auroramax

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Photos: Auroral lights

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  1. St. Patrick's Day green

    The aurora borealis, or northern lights, fill the early morning sky on March 17, 2013, above the Holy Assumption of the Virgin Mary, a Russian Orthodox Church in Kenai, Alaska. (M. Scott Moon / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Snowy landscape

    The northern lights glow over a snowy Finnish landscape in a photo taken on the night of Jan. 16-17, 2013, by Thomas Kast.

    Watch the time-lapse video on Vimeo. (Thomas Kast) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Starry night

    Swirls of green and red appear in an aurora over Whitehorse in Canada's Yukon Territory on the night of Sept. 3, 2012. The northern lights were sparked by a storm of electrically charged particles that was thrown off by the sun on Aug. 31. (David Cartier, Sr. / NASA via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. View from above

    NASA astronaut Joe Acaba, flight engineer of the Expedition 32 crew onboard the International Space Station, recorded this image of Aurora Australis, also known as the Southern Lights, on July 15, 2012, from an altitude of approximately 240 miles.The Canadarm2 robot arm is in the foreground. (Joe Acaba / NASA via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Summer delight

    Robert Snache, a photographer living in the Rama First Nation in Ontario, captured this view of the northern lights on the night of July 8-9, 2012. For more about Snache and his work, check out Spirithands Photography on Facebook. (Robert Snache / Spirithands Photography) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Norwegian lights

    Thorbjørn Haagensen took this picture of the northern lights on April 3, 2012, from Hillesøy, close to Tromsø in northern Norway. The winter season is prime time for auroral displays, but with the onset of spring, the northern lights begin to pale up north. "Beginning in the middle of May, the midnight sun brings sunshine all night long," Haagensen said. (Thorbjørn Haagensen) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Heavenly glow

    Jonina Oskarsdottir captured this picture of the northern lights on March 8, 2012, over Faskrudsfjordur, Iceland. "No words can describe the experience of the northern lights tonight," Oskarsdottir told SpaceWeather.com. She used a Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera to take the shot, with a Canon 14mm f/2.8L USM II lens set for ISO 1600 ... and a 1-second exposure. (Jonina Oskarsdottir / via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Alaskan green

    The skies over the frozen Susitna River near Talkeetna, Alaska, are lit up by a display of the northern lights on Jan. 23, 2012. The aurora was enhanced by solar flares in the days preceding the event. (Michael Dinneen / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Spectral scene

    It's almost as if these two separate events of nature were fuming at each other. The northern lights are seen above the ash plume of Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull volcano on the evening of April 22, 2010. (Lucas Jackson / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Halloween treat

    A geomagnetic storm produced a colorful show of aurora borealis in the skies over Hyvinka in southern Finland on the morning of Oct. 31, 2003. (Pekka Sakki / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Majestic mountains and sky

    The colors of sunrise and the northern lights add to this view of a Perseid meteor streak on Aug. 12, 2000, as seen from the Colorado Rockies. (Jimmy Westlake / Colorado Mountain College) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Graceful ballet of light

    The northern lights dance over the Knik River near Palmer, Alaska, on Nov. 29, 2006. (Bob Martinson / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Otherworldly feel

    John Carlson of Lutsen, Minn., said he was "surprised by the intense activity of the aurora" on Aug. 29, 2008. He took this beautiful but eerie photograph. (John Carlson / John and Sallie Carlson) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Midwestern dazzle

    Northern lights are shown above a covered bridge at Wilkinson Pioneer Park in Rock Falls, Iowa, on Nov. 7, 2004. (Arian Schuessler / Mason City Globe Gazette via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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