Northern Lights Explained



The northern lights, also known as the aurora borealis, are an atmospheric phenomenon. They usually occur in all of Iceland and northern parts of Canada, Alaska, Sweden, Norway, Finland, and Russia. The part of the aurora closest to the Earth is about 80 miles above the Earth’s surface, while the top may run several miles above the Earth.

According to Discover the World, “The northern lights and their counterpart in the southern hemisphere appear when highly charged solar wind particles flowing from the Sun collide with air molecules in the earth’s atmosphere transferring their energy into light.” Solar storms on the Sun’s surface give out huge clouds of electrically charged particles. These particles travel millions of miles and eventually collide with the Earth. Most particles get deflected away, but some get captured in the Earth’s magnetic field going towards the North and South Poles and into the atmosphere. This is why they are found at the magnetic poles.

The northern lights also come in many different colors ranging from the usual green to the occasional red. This is caused by the two main gases in the Earth’s atmosphere, nitrogen and oxygen, and these elements are what cause the different colors in an aurora display. The green is caused by oxygen, and the pink, purple, and blue are caused by nitrogen. Astronomer Tom Kerss said, “We sometimes see a wonderful scarlet red color, and this is caused by very high altitude oxygen interacting with solar particles.”

Other planets have been found to have aurora. Any planet with a magnetic field and atmosphere is likely to have aurora. Scientists have observed aurora on Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune.

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