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Northern Lights: The Science Behind It

Updated: Feb 20, 2023

Planning your next trip to see The Northern Lights, or just curious about how they work?


What are they?

The Northern Lights, popularly known as the Aurora Borealis are a natural occurrence of radiant, eye-catching lights in the night sky. They are proof of the Earth’s magnetic field colliding with solar winds. In the southern hemisphere, the Aurora Borealis is known as Aurora Australis or The Southern Lights.


How do they occur?

Auroras are the result of charged particles from solar winds colliding with gasses in the Earth’s upper atmosphere. When billions of these particles clash, they create a dazzling light show for viewers on Earth to enjoy. The color of these lights depends on which gas particle they collide with and at what altitude.


Oxygen:

100 km - 300 km - Oxygen produces green, the most frequently occurring color,

300 km - 400 km - Oxygen at a higher altitude in the atmosphere can create a rare red glow


Nitrogen:

At an altitude of around 100 km, Nitrogen can shade the outer colors of the aurora pink or dark red


Hydrogen and Helium:

An outstanding blue or purple can be produced by the first two elements, however, these colors tend to be difficult for human eyes to identify in the dark sky.


Where is the best place to see the northern lights?

This phenomenon occurs near the magnetic poles. The best places to watch The Northern Lights are the Northwestern Territories in Canada, Greenland, Iceland, the Northern Coast of Norway, and Siberia. These lights can be best viewed in smaller communities since they are not as starkly visible in areas with light pollution.


Regardless of where you live, this beautiful event should be experienced at least once in a lifetime.





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