Even experienced stargazers were stunned by the intensity of the aurora borealis that swept across the night sky in northern Scandinavia after the biggest solar flare in six years.
"It has been absolutely incredible," British astronomer John Mason cried from the deck of the MS Midnatsol, a cruise ship plying the fjord-fringed coast of northern Norway.
"I saw my first aurora 40 years ago, and this is one of the best," Mason said.
U.S. space weather experts from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Tuesday evening that so far they had heard of no problems from the storm that triggered the auroras, which made it as far south as Wales, where the weather often doesn't cooperate with good viewing.
It was part of the strongest solar storm in years, but the sun is likely to get even more active in the next few months and years, said physicist Doug Biesecker at the U.S. Space Weather Prediction Center in Boulder, Colorado.
"To me this was a wake up call. The sun is reminding us that solar max is approaching," Biesecker said. "A lot worse is in store for us. We hope that you guys are paying attention. I would say we passed with flying colors."
Even before particles from the solar storm reached the Earth on Tuesday, a different aurora on Monday night was dancing across the sky as far south as Ireland and England, where people rarely get a chance to catch the stunning light show.
Those Northern Lights were likely just variations in normal background solar wind, not the solar storm that erupted on Sunday, Biesecker said.
Text and images: AP
Image: The aurora borealis, or Northern Lights, are seen near the city of Tromsoe, northern Norway, on Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2012. Stargazers were out in force in northern Europe on Tuesday, hoping to be awed by a spectacular showing of northern lights after the most powerful solar storm in six years.