The sun is still near the peak of its 11-year solar cycle, but it hasn't always acted like it lately. Known as a solar maximum, this peak normally brings a salvo of solar flares that spark geomagnetic storms and auroras when they hit Earth. Yet the current solar maximum has been the weakest in a century, and aside from a fiery "mini-max" in June, the sun has been relatively quiet for much of the summer.

Our star is full of surprises, though, and its July lull was followed by some noteworthy August outbursts. Several recent auroras have been masterfully captured by photographers on Earth's surface, but as usual, the most dramatic views of Earth come from a unique perch more than 200 miles overhead.

Astronauts aboard the International Space Station were watching the August auroras, too, snapping enough photos to create spellbinding time-lapse footage. Two such videos have been released in the past week, one by NASA and one by the European Space Agency (ESA). And as Earth passes into its equinox month of September, they provide a fitting kickoff for the aurora-viewing season.

Here's the NASA video, which shows a vivid Aug. 19 aurora. (Just a heads up, both videos are music-free. Some time-lapse videos need music, but eerie silence works here given the soundless setting.)

And here's the ESA video, released just two days before NASA's. "We flew right through a massive aurora after last week's solar mass ejection," ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst explains in a statement:

Finally, here's a bonus look at where auroras like these originate. The video below shows a mid-level (M5) solar flare erupting from the sun on Aug. 24, as seen by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory:

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