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Solar Wind Sparks Northern Lights on Wintry Nights

Lights Over Laplands' guests set up cameras to snap pictures of the northern lights over Abisko National Park in Sweden. Chad Blakley / Lights Over Lapland

A fast-moving stream of solar wind is stirring up the northern lights around the poles, and that's leading to northern delights in places like Norway and Sweden. It doesn't even have to be dark out.

"We are seeing northern lights against a dark blue afternoon sky in the Lofoten Islands of Norway," Eric Fokke told SpaceWeather.com on Friday.

Photographer Chad Blakley, who organizes aurora-watching tours through Lights Over Lapland, is also taking advantage of the sights over Sweden's Abisko National Park. "The inhabitants of Abisko were treated to one of the brightest aurora displays of the season!" he wrote in an email. "The auroras started dancing early in the afternoon and developed into an extremely fast-moving display with some of the most intense pink colors I have ever seen!"

Two time-lapse videos demonstrate what Blakely is talking about. Watch them in full-screen HD, and keep an eye on Blakley's Facebook page for more.

The auroral activity was sparked by the interaction of Earth's magnetosphere with a high-speed wind of electrically charged particles from the sun. "'Winds at 1.7 million miles per hour' is not something you'll hear in your typical terrestrial weather forecast," the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Space Weather Prediction Center said in a recent Facebook posting. "However, in the space environment, it happens."

SpaceWeather.com's Tony Phillips told Arctic skywatchers to be on the alert for the northern lights after nightfall on Friday. Fresh pictures are already streaming in to SpaceWeather.com's aurora gallery.