Aurora Borealis, the northern lights

In high latitudes you might at times experience colored lights shimmering across the night sky, some Inuit- people believed that the spirits of their ancestors could be seen dancing in the flickering aurora. Mythological stories tells about aurora borealis as a fire bridge to the sky built by the gods. The aurora borealis or aurora australis, the northern or southern lights can be a colorful experience that sometimes can remind of fireworks.

Our sun is millions miles away, its effects extend far beyond its visible surface. Great storms on the sun send gusts of charged solar particles hurtling across space. If Earth is in the path of the particle stream, our planet’s magnetic field and atmosphere react. When the charged particles from the sun strike atoms and molecules in Earth’s atmosphere, they excite those atoms, causing them to light up. What happens in an aurora is similar to what happens in the neon lights we see on many business signs. Electricity is used to excite the atoms in the neon gas within the glass tubes of a neon sign. That’s why these signs give off their brilliant colors. The aurora works on the same principle – but at a far more vast scale.

“The weather' conditions on the sun that decide whether or not we will see the aurora.”

The aurora often appears as curtains of lights, but they can also be arcs or spirals, often following lines of force in Earth’s magnetic field. Most are green in color but sometimes you’ll see a hint of pink, and strong displays might also have red, violet and white colors. The lights typically are seen in the far north – the nations bordering the Arctic Ocean – Canada and Alaska, Scandinavian countries, Iceland, Greenland and Russia. But strong displays of the lights can extend down into more southerly latitudes in the United States. And of course, the lights have a counterpart at Earth’s south polar regions.

Different gases in Earth’s atmosphere give off different colors when they are excited, oxygen gives off the green color of the aurora, for example, nitrogen causes blue or red colors.When charged particles from the sun strike atoms in Earth’s atmosphere, they cause electrons in the atoms to move to a higher-energy state. When the electrons drop back to a lower energy state, they release a photon: light.

And even though we know the scientific reason for the aurora, the dazzling natural light show can still fire our imaginations to visualize fire bridges, gods or dancing ghosts. People still travel thousands of miles to see the brilliant natural light shows in Earth’s atmosphere, the ones that experienced the northern light will tell you it`s one of natures most beautiful miracles.