Posted in Nature, Science

Around the World: Aurora Borealis

Also called the “Northern Lights”, the aurora borealis are a magnificent display in the skies of high latitude areas on Earth. This natural wonder has dazzled people for ages; so much so, that many are willing to travel thousands of miles in search of them. Once a mystery, modern science has revealed the real reason behind nature’s light show.

I’ll let the experts at NASA explain: “The aurora borealis, are caused by collisions between fast-moving electrons and the oxygen and nitrogen in Earth’s upper atmosphere. The electrons – which come from the magnetosphere, the region of space controlled by Earth’s magnetic field – transfer energy to the oxygen and nitrogen gases, making them ‘excited.’ As they ‘calm down’ and return to their normal state, they emit photons, small bursts of energy in the form of light.”

In other words — Earth’s magnetic field hosts electrons which light up as they change form.

Red and Green Aurora, at Hakoya Island, in Tromsoe, Norway. Photo by Frank Olsen (via Wikimedia Commons)

The cool part is the shapes and colors of this display are dependent upon the source of the electron. So oxygen emits a green or yellow light, for example, while nitrogen emits blue. But that’s not all. When the two gases combine, even purples, pinks and whites are not off limits.

Red aurora borealis over Wrangell/St.Elias National Park in Alaska. Michael S. Quinton/National Geographic/­Getty Images (via How Stuff Works)

But these lights are not limited to the northern hemisphere. In fact, the southern hemisphere’s version is known as the “aurora australis”, or, you guessed it, the southern lights. And the aurora is also not just for planet Earth. Auroras have been observed on Saturn, Jupiter and Uranus as well.

It’s said that the aurora is the only visible evidence that the sun and the Earth are connected by more than sunlight. There’s a great video here that shows the aurora in motion.

So incredible to know that our planet holds so many unique features and fascinating wonders that marvel us time and again. We live, work and play here, but often underestimate how wondrous our planet truly is. Much love, Planet Earth.

Stay inspired,

C x N

Sources: NASA, How Stuff Works, Aurora Borealis

Photos: Flickr, Wikimedia Commons, How Stuff Works

2 thoughts on “Around the World: Aurora Borealis

  1. That’s amazing! So many colors! I never knew what caused the Northern Lights! Thanks for the insights! Hope I can see them one day!

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