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Space station sees southern lights

We've been talking a lot about the northern lights lately, but here's a must-see view of the southern lights, as captured by the crew of the International Space Station on Jan. 3.

The time-lapse video begins over the Indian Ocean, with the camera looking eastward toward southern Australia. The red and green lights of the aurora shimmer just before sunrise, which comes when the station is south of Australia and west of Tasmania. Go full screen for the full effect.

The differences in the colors of the aurora are due to the various emissions sparked by the interaction of solar particles with oxygen and nitrogen atoms in the upper atmosphere. This previous posting delves into the colors of the auroral sky as seen from space.

I've got to think the space station's astronauts are closely watching the current uptick in solar activity. NASA says the solar storm poses no danger to the crew, so they'll be free to snap photos and send them along to the Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth, which is the source of this imagery. Be sure to check out Jason Major's report on Universe Today about the whole space-storm safety issue as it relates to the station's crew.

More views of Earth from the space station:


Yet another tip o' the Log to Jason Major, who watches over Lights in the Dark.

Alan Boyle is msnbc.com's science editor. Connect with the Cosmic Log community by "liking" the log's Facebook page, following @b0yle on Twitter or adding Cosmic Log's Google+ page to your circle. You can also check out "The Case for Pluto," my book about the controversial dwarf planet and the search for other worlds.