I tried to photograph the Northern Lights last night with 60D, kit lens. I had never tried this before. I did figure out the M mode and took some pictures with nice green lights on a 10, 15, 20 and 30 second exposure. I tried the max apertures and a few other settings in the same range-low end. My question with this lens is: what would be a good approach? I noticed I needed to shut off the autofocus or the picture would not be taken, my manual focus was out of focus as I really couldn't see through the camera viewfinder in the dark. Can I use autofocus? And how do I get the camera to take the picture using autofocus? What should I change in my approach?
You cannot use autofocus through-the-lens, as there is not enough information for the sensors to detect being in-focus. Scenarios when autofocus will not work are described in your User Manual.
You can use LiveView + manual focus, and zoom in with the magnifier button to verify if you are in focus, meanwhile you can use the highest ISO setting to collect as much available light as possible. When you are done with focusing, you can switch ISO back if you want (preferred to avoid high-ISO noise).
Make sure you do not use a too large aperture, as you will end up with a "soft" image. Also do not use a too slow shutter, as you will have motion blur. But you might actually want that as an artistic effect - you will have to determine that.