A Show of Northern Lights

This week the Aurora Borealis gave a grand show with a cascade of greens and even some red hues that are very rare. It is believe that these colors in their vibrant display were the result of the sun storm that recently occurred. Many individuals from Canada through Arkansas were able to see the Northern Lights with the naked eye. Enthusiasts of the lights commented that the lights were more impressive this past week than they can ever remember. If you are not familiar with the Northern Lights or how they appear, there is a fascinating scientific explanation for their presence.

The Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis is a scientific phenomena that occurs in regions of the Earth where energy is converted into a light show of epic proportions. They are best seen in Scandinavia, Alaska, the upper Great Lakes region, some parts of Canada and the coast of Siberia, Russia. The lights are fickle and do not always appear in the same place. One evening the lights are magnificent and drape like a curtain of fascinating light against the night sky. On other evenings, they are barely visible. A person seeking the Northern Lights has to have some patience and some time on their hands, as they may not see them on their first excursion.

The Aurora Borealis is created when energy from light enters the upper atmosphere of the Earth. These energetic particles (electrons and at times protons) can emit energy when they enter parts of the atmospheric layers of the Earth. The energy that is given off happens in the form of light. This occurs when these energy particles collide with elemental atoms as they enter the Earth’s atmosphere (specifically the magnetosphere). When the particles collide they give off energy in the form of colored light. This glow can take on various shapes and can come in a variety of colors. The colors of the light depends on what elemental gas the energy particle collides with in the upper atmosphere of the Earth. For example, oxygen tends to produce green and red hues. Nitrogen on the other hand, tends to form red/blue hues that can also appear as a purple band in the lights.

The lights also take on a signature shape. They often appear as a sloped curtain. To understand why this occurs, the magnetosphere (a layer of the Earth’s atmosphere) and the magnetic Earth of the core need to be understood. It is analogous to playing with an old fashioned Etch a Sketch. The magnet made a specific pattern of the little shavings inside the toy. Earth has a magnetic inner core and it projects out through the Earth’s surface, making the shape of the magnetosphere. As the particles create the light, the magnetic nature of the magnetosphere and solar wind (the plasma given off as the sun burns away) create the curtain like shape of the lights.

Many of the regions that host the Aurora Borealis have specialized tours for those wishing to see it for themselves. It is best to view the Northern Lights where there are no other lights to interfere with the view. This means the full moon is to be avoided and a well populated area is not recommended. As the lights are fickle, it is best to leave lots of time for exploration and enjoyment of the lights. The view that will be seen when they are shining is one that will full the soul with a magnificent and breathtaking view that will never be forgotten.

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