Aurora Borealis

The Aurora Borealis is one of the most beautiful phenomena in the world, but how does it actually come to be?

Aurora from space. From Shutterstock

It all starts with the Sun. As the Sun rotates on its axis, magnetic field lines are twisted and jumbled around which cause sun spots, or regions on the suns surface of cooler temperature created by magnetic flux. These sun spots spew out plasma and solar winds creating the aurora that we see; the stronger the solar winds, the more intense the aurora is. Particles coming from the sun are drawn to the North and South poles because of their magnetization. As the particles come in, they interact with the different gases in the Earths atmosphere to create different light. Oxygen collides with the particles at lower altitudes, creating a green light. Higher altitudes produce red light which takes more energy as the air is less dense. Source

These lights have been studied for millennia, even dating back to the French Lascaux cave which show paintings of the event. Galileo was the one who named them, taking Aurora from the Goddess of the Dawn and Boreas, a Greek word meaning wind of the north. The lights can be seen in Canada and other northern countries like Sweden and Norway. When the flares are stronger they can be seen in northern England and even as far south as New England, which was recorded to be see in the 1700s. Source


  1. luanaisaac1125 · March 13, 2019

    I’ve always wanted to see this phenomenon in person, and I’ve always wondered why Aurora lights were only visible in the North and South. Now, you’ve taught me that it’s because of magnetization that attracts the particles that cause the Aurora to the North and South Poles, which makes a lot of sense in context with other things that we’ve learned recently. Thanks for explaining this so clearly!


  2. IanO12 · March 13, 2019

    It always baffles me to think about how the auroras are viewed from above. It’s like clouds, we forget they have height too! Of course, I haven’t been far enough north to even see the Aurora Borealis from Earth, let alone space, so it’s no wonder that I am so intrigued. I want to take a look at the emission spectrum of carbon dioxide to see if I can guess what an aurora would look like on Venus.


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