The auroras are one of the great wonders of the world produced solely by Mother Nature. Also known as the aurora borealis, it is a beautiful, natural light show that occurs in the atmosphere near the magnetic poles of the Earth. The dancing northern lights appear as a mesmerizing display of colors shifting and changing in the sky. You can only see the northern lights at nights when the sky is very clear. Here we’ll talk about what the auroras are, what causes them, and how you can find out where and when you can see them for yourself.
The aurora has been spectacular to humans for centuries, often appearing as an important part of the legends and myths of aboriginal peoples who lived in the north and south. The Northern Lights is one of the two most common names for the occurrence and the second name is ‘Aurora Borealis’. Of course, there is also a southern counterpart to the lights, called ‘Aurora Australis’. This name, quite predictably, comes from the latin for ‘southern lights’.
The science behind the dancing northern lights
So, let’s dive into the science behind these breathtaking arrays of light. The dancing Northern Lights are caused by gas particles in the atmosphere colliding into particles released by the sun. Basically, as protons and electrons from the sun move towards our planet, and as these heated particles enter our atmosphere, which is weaker nearest the magnetic poles, they smash into gas molecules. Then they emit gorgeous light hundreds of kilometers above the surface of the Earth. These little explosions from the collisions produce a beautiful show for us down here on the ground. This can be seen far in the sky. Different gas particles result in different colours. For example, nitrogen particles produce a bluish hue in the lights. Actually, other gasses create varying shades of red, yellow, purple, and green in an absolutely incredible display.
Because the atmosphere is weaker further in the far north and south of the atmosphere, these collisions only occur far in the northern and southern hemispheres. This means that you can almost exclusively see the lights in countries closest to the poles. Countries like Russia, Australia, Greenland, and Canada. Weather takes a role in our ability to view auroras. We obviously are unable to view them when clouds get in the way. Unfortunately, our own behavior affects the viewing experience too. Those who live near cities don’t often see the lights. This is due to the pollution produced nearby, much like how stars at night can almost never be seen in many cities. Sightseeing of the auroras is best from a rural area on a very clear night.
If you want the forecast for the close time don’t miss our post about Northern Lights Prediction.
You can get websites online that will tell you where the Aurora can be seen and on what nights if you want to enjoy this wonder yourself. Here are three sites that will give you a nice aurora alert to make sure you don’t miss the showing:
- Aurora Watch for Canada
- For Europe Aurora Forecast
- For Australia Aurora Service
These sites are great tools for when you really just can’t bear to miss the next light show (although, if you live in northern Canada like I do, it’s often just a question of looking outside the window in the evening to know if there are any auroras nearby.)
Our world doesn’t offer much more attractive vistas than that of the Northern Lights in a clear sky. There aren’t many displays of beauty to be found, neither manmade nor natural, that compares to the beauty of the aurora. It serves as a beautiful display of what wonders our planet can create. It has captured the imaginations of many peoples throughout history. You should see the northern lights at least once in your lifetime, and they deserve to be admired in awe.