The aurora borealis, or northern lights, fill the sky early Sunday, March 17, 2013, above the Holy Assumption of the Virgin Mary Russian Orthodox church in Kenai, Alaska. The bright display at times filled the sky. (AP Photo/M. Scott Moon)
A massive eruption on the sun Friday unleashed a wave of intense solar particles at Earth that sparked a geomagnetic storm and boosted aurora displays over the weekend.
The sun eruption sent a wave of solar particles streaking toward Earth at about 900 miles per second, according to observations by NASA and European spacecraft. That is the equivalent of a mind-boggling about 3.2 million miles per hour.
The sun is currently in an active phase of its 11-year solar weather cycle and is expected to reach its peak activity in 2013.
The northern lights are produced when charged particles from the sun interact with atoms in Earth’s upper atmosphere. The awe-inspiring displays — shimmering, translucent green, purple, and red “curtains” that seem to billow across the night sky — are common in extreme northern latitudes, where a constant stream of such particles arrives on the so-called “solar wind.”
Above are photos of the dazzling northern lights display over the weekend.
MORE: Other Views of Northern Lights
Northern Lights create an emerald glow behind some Scandinavian pine trees.