Earth’s Northern Wonder: Aurora Borealis

Although most of the world’s population will never see the Aurora Borealis, the northern lights, as they are commonly known, is one of our planet’s most spectacular scenes. While it’s one of the most astonishing sites in existence, it’s also one of the least witnessed. Here are a few of the most asked questions about this beautiful natural spectacle.

What is the Aurora Borealis?

The Aurora Borealis is a natural show of colored lights most often seen in the polar zone.

What causes the Aurora Borealis?

The Earth’s magnetic field accelerates charged particles from solar wind. These speedy charged particles collide with atoms in the upper atmosphere. Upon collision they released their excess energy which shows up as colors in the sky.

What does the term Aurora Borealis mean?

It is Latin for “northern dawn.”

What time of year does the Aurora Borealis usually occur?

The Aurora Borealis phenomenon usually occurs in September and October and then again in March and April.

Where in the world can the Aurora Borealis be seen?

The Aurora Borealis is frequently seen in Alaska in the United States but it can also be seen in other countries. Besides the U.S. the northern lights can be seen in Iceland, Lapland, Greenland, Scandinavia and Canada.

Why are there so many colors?

The atmosphere is filled with many different types of atoms, and each gives off its own color when it explodes. The green and red lights are from atomic Oxygen while the pinkish lights are from molecular Nitrogen.

Why can the northern lights only be seen in cold climates?

Since the Aurora Borealis occurs high in the atmosphere, clouds can be a problem viewing this spectacular sight. Colder climates have fewer clouds, hence, better viewing. Warm nights harbor clouds, which hide the Aurora Borealis.

Is the Aurora Borealis harmful to humans?

The answer is both yes and no. The high-energy electrons it creates can be harmful. Humans live far from the Aurora Borealis and so we are unaffected by its properties. However, astronauts who are orbiting space near the Aurora may be harmed. There are also some effects felt on the surface of the Earth such as disrupted satellites, interrupted radio waves and disturbed power lines and stations.

Where can you see the Aurora Borealis in Sweden?

Northern lights can be viewed near the Norwegian border; in fact, several Swedish providences have phenomenal views of the Aurora Borealis.

Why does the Aurora Borealis seem to move?

Because it does–as high-energy electrons pierce the atmosphere, they move across the sky. The refracting beams of light from their collisions move along with them.


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