The Aurora: Northern and Southern Lights

by blackspanielgallery

The Auroras are beautiful, dynamic displays that inspire awe.

The Auroras are dazzling light displays that dance through the sky, changing both shape and sometimes color. Basically, the sky turn into a natural occurrence of something very similar to neon lights, but the gas is not neon. In fact, few of what we call neon lights are really neon gas bulbs.

These wonders do not occur every night, but when they do they are spectacular.

How Do the Auroras Form?

It Is Not so Mysterious

The Auroras are a result of a disturbance on the sun.  A solar flare, often associated with a sunspot, flings charged particles into space, and if the particles travel towards the Earth they can result in an aurora display.  Often, the solar flare is not aimed at the Earth, and the particles travel by in space.

 

The sun has a complex multitude of magnetic poles, and because the sun has differential rotation, which means it goes around on its axis over different periods of time for different latitudes, those magnetic fields can become twisted and cause magnetic storms.  Charged particles move in curved paths in magnetic fields, so the charged particles of the sun rotate into sunspots, darker areas of magnetic storms, that can also cause a solar flare.  A solar flare exists when the sun erupts and throws charged particles outward.  Normally, these particles will arc back to the sun, but if the explosion is great enough charged particles are flung into space.

 

The charged particles travel towards the Earth, and enter its magnetic field.  They then move in a spiral path in response to the magnetic field, and travel in the Earth’s magnetic fields towards the magnetic poles.  The Earth’s magnetic field enters the Earth at the magnetic poles, so the spiral path drops in height as the particles move towards the magnetic poles.

 

The stream of charged particles eventually comes into the atmosphere.  They pull and push on the molecules, attracting the positive nuclei and repelling the electrons.  This adds energy to the electrons.  The electrons then give this extra energy way as light.  The color of the light emitted depends on the molecule involved.  Different gases have different amounts of energy the electron can accept in going into a higher energy state.  So, different gases glow different colors.  As the electrons reach deeper into the atmosphere, more gases have their electrons excited.  This is caused by the changing strength of the event, and the closeness of the incoming charged particles to the magnetic poles.  Some events have faster moving charged particles that can reach deep into the atmosphere, others do not.

Northern Lights

National Geographic

Other Planets

Auroras Across the Solar Syatem

Many other planets also have aurora displays.  The needed ingredients are an atmosphere and a magnetic field.  Mercury basically has no atmosphere, nor a magnetic field, and both the magnetic field and atmosphere on Mars are weak.  But, the auroras have been observed on other planets.

 

Periods of Good and Bad Aurora Conditions

Because sunspots come and go in lines on the sun, and those lines travel towards the sun’s equator, there are periods of high and low solar activity.  Every eleven years when the sun reverses its magnetic field, solar activity is at a maximum.  This is the time when the lines of sunspots near the equator disappear and new lines break out.  So, there is a maximum of aurora every eleven years, and a minimum of the phenomenon every eleven years.  The time between a maximum and a minimum is about five years, with the transition from one to the other being gradual.

 

Northern Lights

National Geographic

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Updated: 10/03/2015, blackspanielgallery
 
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DerdriuMarriner on 06/29/2015

blackspanielgallery, It's exciting for areas -- such as Georgia, North Carolina, Texas, and Virginia -- normally excluded from aurora borealis viewing to be able to witness these majestic displays.

blackspanielgallery on 06/25/2015

Thanks for the comments.

candy47 on 06/25/2015

Your explanation of the aurora lights is easy to understand and the videos are stunning!

CruiseReady on 06/24/2015

There was a report on TV yesterday that the northern lights could be seen from much farther south than usual last night. But the area didn't include Florida. Sure wish it had, but the videos in your article were a good substitute.

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