We all have heard of the fascinating Northern Lights innumerable times. They are also known as the AuroraBorealis. They are among some of the most beautiful astronomical phenomena we see both in the northern and the southern hemispheres of the world. Amazing spectrum in different light hues can be seen in the night sky and is a scene to watch!
What are northern lights actually?
When collisions take place between electrically charged particles of the sun, which enter the earth’s atmosphere, the bright dancing northern lights are visible. The lights are visible over the magnetic poles of the southern as well as the northern hemispheres. In the northern hemisphere, they are known as ‘aurora borealis’ and in the southern hemisphere they are known as ‘aurora australis’. The hues in which these lights appear are myriad – pink and pale green are the most common shades of them. Apart from these, there are shades of yellow, blue, green, red and violet as well. The patterns in which the lights appear are also different. While some lights appear as scattered clouds of lights, some appear as patches; some look like rippling curtains, while others look like arcs. Some of the lights look like shooting rays and they seem to illuminate the night sky splendidly.
What phenomena lies behind the northern lights?
There is a complete scientific explanation as to what causes the northern lights. The earth’s atmosphere contains various kinds of gaseous particles. When these particles come in contact with and collide with the charged particles from the sun, this amazing phenomena takes place. The temperature over the sun’s surface is perhaps millions of degrees Celsius. At such a high temperature, the collisions of the gas molecules which take place are explosive in nature and frequent as well. Innumerable free protons and electrons get thrown away from the atmosphere of the sun during rotation and these escape through the holes in the magnetic field. With the help of the solar wind, these particles are blown towards the earth. Large deflection takes place of the charged particles by the magnetic field of the earth. At each pole of the earth, the magnetic field is weak and these particles enter the earth’s atmosphere and collide with various gaseous particles. These collisions lead to emission of light, which we see as northern lights.
Now, the various colors that are seen in the ‘Aurora Borealis’ are because of the nature of the gaseous particles which are colliding. Different gaseous particles emit different colors. Pale yellowish-green is the most common color, which is seen in northern lights and this is produced by oxygen molecules, which are located at a distance of approximately 60 miles above the earth. Nitrogen produces purplish-red or blue aurora; while fully red auroras are produced by oxygen, which is at very high altitude – almost 200 miles above the surface of the earth. Lots of scientific research is being done on this amazing natural phenomena and many interesting facts are being unveiled.
From where can the northern lights be seen?
There are various places from where the northern lights can be seen vividly. The phenomenon appears at the magnetic poles of the earth. Some of the best places from where the northern lights are visible are northern Canada and Alaska. However, these places are extremely cold and covered in snow and watching the lights from here will not be that easy. Other convenient places from where the aurora borealis can be viewed include Finland, Norway and Sweden. Sometimes the solar flares are extremely active. And in such times, the lights can be seen from parts of Scotland and even from some places in England.
What is the best time to view northern lights?
From the places from where northern lights can be seen, they can be seen at any time – they are present all the time. However, for visitors, who intend to see the northern lights, winter is the best time to view this natural splendor. The weather remains clear and the skies don’t have clouds at this time of the year. The levels of pollution are also low during these months. March and April and September and October are the best months for viewing the northern lights. During these months, the lights appear to be brighter and more active. Infact, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA monitor the activities closely. It is interesting to note that these agencies issue aurora alerts when they expect an impressive show of the northern lights.
Northern lights are visible from space
One of the most fascinating facts about northern lights is that they are visible distinctly from space. Satellites which revolve around the earth’s orbit can take images of the aurora. And the images are striking as well. The auroras are quite bright as they show strongly on night-side of the earth.
Auroras are not a specialty of the earth only. Voyagers 1 and 2 have brought images which show that such phenomena exist in other planets like Jupiter and Saturn as well as in Uranus and Neptune as well.
Places from where the northern lights can be seen have become popular tourist destinations of the world.
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