The Northern Lights, or the Aurora Borealis, are one of the most beautiful natural phenomena visible from the northern hemisphere of the earth. It is a natural display of colorful light in the sky, visible primarily in the Arctic region. The dancing lights of the Aurora make up a breathtaking view and attract hundreds of thousands of sky-gazers to places such as Norway, Scandinavia, Alaska, northern regions of Canada, and parts of Greenland.
Until a few centuries ago, the occurrence of the Aurora Borealis was assigned divine significance. It was in the late 1800s, that scientists started to study the scientific reasons behind this dazzling light display. The Sun, the star at the center of our solar system, is 93 million miles away. The temperature on the Sun’s surface is tremendously high. On the Sun’s photosphere, however, temporary dark spots called Sunspot appear from time to time. Highly charged electrons escape through these Sunspots and are blown towards the Earth by the solar winds.
When these charged solar particles collide with the earth’s atmosphere, they strike the gas atoms and molecules causing them to give off light. The earth’s magnetic field causes this collision to appear as bursts of light in the upper latitudes. Scientists believe that the collision of the charged solar particles with Oxygen atoms causes the green and red photons and collision with Nitrogen atoms causes purple and pink light bursts.
The Aurora Borealis commonly occurs between the 60° N and 75° N latitudes, and great storms on the Sun have been known to cause the Aurora to be visible as far south as 30° N latitude. While the Aurora Borealis is visible on almost all clear nights, scientists believe that the activity of this stellar display peaks every 11 years.
Similar to the Aurora Borealis, there occurs a natural display of lights in the sky close to the southern pole as well. This is called the Aurora Australis. Together they both are referred to as the Aurora Polaris due to their occurrence around the poles. Scientists also believe that these two phenomena mirror each other.