03/20/2013 08:38 am ET Updated Mar 20, 2013

Northern Lights PHOTOS 2013: AuroraMax Observatory Captures Dazzling Auroras

Travelers from around the world come to the far North to witness the northern lights in person. But if that's too much trouble, the Canadian Space Agency's AuroraMax observatory brings the aurora borealis right to your browser.

The observatory's "all-sky imager" provides a 180-degree view of the night sky over Yellowknife, the capital of Canada's Northwest Territories. Conditions permitting, nightly aurora displays are live-streamed on the agency's website.

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Auroramax Photos

These still images from the AuroraMax (above) show early highlights from 2013, including a few auroras triggered by a coronal mass ejection (a massive burst of charged particles from the sun) that approached Earth on March 17.

Talk about donning the green on St. Patrick's Day!

The observatory's camera automatically turns on after sunset, but there are a few factors that may affect viewing, according to the agency's website. The camera is located far from downtown Yellowknife, and thus less vunerable to light pollution. But moonlight -- especially from a full moon -- can make the aurora borealis seem lighter in color and less intense. This phenomenon is compounded when snow is on on the ground.

Additionally, since auroras come in clusters of activity called "substorms," viewers might have to wait through periods of inactivity.

Weather can also obscure auroras, but the website Astronomy North publishes a daily forecast to help plan viewing. There are also services that send text alerts to subscribers when auroras and other space "weather" are set to occur.

Auroras are natural light displays that occur when solar particles launched by solar flares, coronal mass ejections or solar winds "disturb and distort the magnetosphere," according to NASA.



Northern Lights