Crater Lake aurora

Photo: Goldpaint Photography/Vimeo

Bright, colorful lights are icons of Christmastime, making this an ideal season to highlight the year's most vivid aurora videos. We've done that for the past two Decembers at MNN, compiling a "holiday in lights" aurora roundup at the end of 2011 and 2012.

We're doing it again for 2013, as you might have guessed, but this time is a little different. After more than a decade of gradual growth, the 11-year solar cycle — whose violent storms trigger auroras on Earth and other planets — is now in the midst of its long-awaited peak. No one knows exactly how long this solar max will last, but NASA has said the sun's magnetic field is poised to flip around year's end, marking the apex of the current cycle.

This peak is relatively weak compared with past solar maxes, but it has still sparked a flurry of auroras in the sky without major disruptions to Earth's power grids or satellite fleets, an inherent danger of solar storms. And although auroras will continue gracing polar regions even as the solar cycle winds down, they may not match the glory of recent years.

Here's a look at some of the best footage of these light shows from 2013, including the northern lights (aurora borealis) as well as their southern counterparts (aurora australis). Most of the videos below use time-lapse photography to emphasize the lights' ethereal motion, and several also feature comets, meteors and other night-sky phenomena.

1. Alberta and British Columbia, Canada

Filmed by Canadian storm chaser Richard Gottardo, this time-lapse video spans three months in Canada's Rocky Mountains — including "some very long, cold nights," Gottardo writes on Vimeo. The final shot of auroras over Revelstoke, B.C., required a five-hour drive and an overnight snowmobile expedition in April, but the results are well worth it.

2. Northern Norway

The opening act in this video is Comet Pan-STARRS, which was visible to the naked eye in March 2013 as it neared the sun. Photographer and science journalist Babak Tafreshi caught time-lapse video of the comet dipping behind a mountain near Tromsø, Norway, on March 20, then stuck around for a dramatic aurora show high above the fjords.

3. Oregon, United States

Photographer Brad Goldpaint just planned to shoot the Milky Way over Oregon's Crater Lake on May 31, but as he explains on Vimeo, "without warning, an unmistakable faint glow of the aurora borealis began erupting in front of me." He spent several hours filming the lights, and even caught the International Space Station streaking across the sky.

4. Michigan, United States

Auroras "really lit up" the Great Lakes in October 2013, according to photographer Shawn Malone, whose time-lapse footage of the lights over Lake Superior racked up 121,000 views in just two months on Vimeo and earned a "Staff Pick" badge from the site. Despite its success, Malone describes her three-minute clip as a preview of a longer film.

5. Tasmania, Australia

Many aurora hunters focus on the northern lights, since aurora australis often gravitates around hard-to-reach places like Antarctica and the vast Southern Ocean. But skywatchers in Australia, New Zealand and Patagonia sometimes catch a glimpse of the southern lights, too, such as this lively performance above Tasmania's North West Bay on May 1.

6. Alberta, Canada

When plasma from an X-class solar flare grazed Earth on May 18, Gottardo once again swept into action, making an early-morning dash to shoot auroras from Alberta's Jasper National Park. Four hours and 1,800 photos later, he had the ingredients for his second time-lapse opus of 2013 — both of which were too mesmerizing too leave off this list.

7. Scandinavia (Greenland, Norway, Iceland and Finland)

This video is a bit long, and includes shots from 2012 as well as 2013, but it has nonetheless earned a place among the year's best aurora films. Produced by time-lapse veteran Anneliese Possberg, it's a whirlwind tour through some of the most aurora-prone parts of Scandinavia. National Geographic offers this in-depth look at how it was made.

8. An airplane, North Atlantic Ocean

Many of these videos feature epic music and splashy editing, but sometimes an aurora just warrants steady, silent reverence. That's the case with this amazing time-lapse clip, shot through an airplane window by photographer Paul Williams as he flew from London to New York in November. This must be how the northern lights look from Santa's sleigh.

Happy holidays!

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