What Are the Northern Lights?

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The Northern Lights, also known as Aurora Borealis, are a natural phenomenon that occurs in the Earth’s polar regions. They are caused by the interaction between the Earth’s magnetic field and charged particles from the Sun. These particles collide with atoms and molecules in the Earth’s atmosphere, causing them to emit light of various colors. The most common colors of the Northern Lights are green, pink, and purple. The intensity and visibility of the lights depend on factors such as solar activity and atmospheric conditions. The Northern Lights are a beautiful and mesmerizing display of nature’s wonders, attracting tourists and photographers from all over the world.

Have you ever visited Alaska? How about Norway or Finland? Maybe you’ve journeyed to northern Canada or Russia. These are some of the top locations to witness one of the most exquisite natural phenomena on our planet. What are we referring to? The Northern Lights, of course!

Have you ever witnessed the Northern Lights? They appear as stunning, delicate colors gracefully moving in the nighttime sky. Some individuals compare them to massive drapes of light swaying in the wind. They are typically blue or green. However, they can also be red, brown, or purple.

Scientists refer to these lights as auroras. In the Northern Hemisphere, they are known as the Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis. In the Southern Hemisphere, they are called Aurora Australis. In either location, spectators are treated to a vibrant, colorful light display unlike any other.

What causes an aurora? Similar to all natural light on Earth, it originates from the Sun. During solar storms, the Sun emits a stream of electrified gas. This gas is filled with minuscule particles known as electrons. When the gas reaches Earth, some of it passes through to our atmosphere.

The electrons then collide with the gases in the Earth’s atmosphere. This collision produces the beautiful lights that we see. What determines the colors of the auroras? This is influenced by the gases they interact with. Additionally, the altitude of the particles can also affect the colors. For example, when electrons mix with oxygen at an altitude of less than 150 miles above the Earth’s surface, they create green light. When they are higher than 150 miles, they produce red light.

People most commonly observe auroras near the North and South Poles. Why is that? The lights follow lines of magnetic force. This is also what gives the lights their appearance of movement. By following the lines of magnetism, they often appear to dance across the sky.

Throughout history, numerous attempts have been made to explain auroras. Various cultures have ancient legends about them. In the past, people in Alaska, Canada, and Greenland believed that auroras were torches of fire. They thought that these torches illuminated the path to heaven for spirits. Many stories from the Aboriginal people of Australia suggest that the lights are gods dancing.

Today, we understand the scientific explanation behind auroras. However, it is still easy to comprehend why people once held different beliefs about them. Even in modern times, people are captivated by the Northern Lights. They travel great distances each year in the hopes of catching a glimpse. Have you ever seen an aurora? Many describe it as a magical experience!

Try It Out

We hope you enjoyed discovering more about the Northern Lights today! Enlist the help of a friend or family member to join you in exploring the following activities:

Exploring Auroras and the Sun

If you want to learn more about auroras, ask an adult to help you find pictures of them online. After that, explain the scientific explanation behind these beautiful lights. Once you’ve done that, make a list of questions you still have about auroras. To find answers to these questions, do some additional research either online or at the library.

If you’re ready to witness the Northern Lights yourself, take a look at this list of the 22 best places to view them. Interestingly, even astronauts can see auroras from space! Discuss with a friend or family member which of these places you would most like to visit to see the auroras.

The Sun has a tremendous impact on our planet Earth, doesn’t it? Take some time to learn about sunspots and solar flares. Find out what causes all this activity on the Sun’s surface and how it affects our planet. After summarizing what you’ve learned, share it with a friend or family member.

Wonder Sources

  • https://spaceplace.nasa.gov/aurora/en/ (accessed 25 Aug. 2020)
  • https://earthsky.org/earth/what-causes-the-aurora-borealis-or-northern-lights (accessed 25 Aug. 2020)
  • https://science.howstuffworks.com/nature/climate-weather/atmospheric/question471.htm (accessed 25 Aug. 2020)
  • https://travel.usnews.com/gallery/the-13-best-places-to-see-the-northern-lights?slide=11 (accessed 25 Aug. 2020)


1. What are the Northern Lights?

The Northern Lights, also known as the Aurora Borealis, are a natural phenomenon that occurs in the polar regions of the Earth. They are a colorful light display in the sky, typically seen in the night, that is caused by particles from the sun colliding with the Earth’s atmosphere.

2. Where can I see the Northern Lights?

The Northern Lights can be seen in countries located near the Arctic Circle, such as Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Alaska, and Canada. These regions offer the best chances of witnessing this breathtaking natural spectacle.

3. What causes the Northern Lights?

The Northern Lights are caused by charged particles from the sun, mainly electrons and protons, colliding with atoms and molecules in the Earth’s atmosphere. When these charged particles collide, they release energy in the form of light, creating the beautiful colors of the Northern Lights.

4. What colors can the Northern Lights be?

The Northern Lights can display a range of colors, including green, pink, yellow, blue, and purple. The color of the Northern Lights depends on the type of gas particles in the atmosphere and the altitude at which the collisions occur.

5. When is the best time to see the Northern Lights?

The best time to see the Northern Lights is during the winter months when the nights are longer and darker. However, the Northern Lights are a natural phenomenon, so they can be quite unpredictable. It is recommended to check the local weather and aurora forecasts for the best chances of seeing them.

6. Are the Northern Lights visible all year round?

While the Northern Lights are present year-round, they are not always visible to the naked eye. This is because they are often obscured by daylight during the summer months and can be affected by weather conditions. The best time to see the Northern Lights is generally from September to March when the nights are longer and darker.

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