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What are the Northern Lights

The northern lights are the common name for the phenomenon known as aurora borealis. The northern lights are a spectacular visual event, where a colorful light display occurs in the sky. It was named by Pierre Gassendi in 1621, after the Roman goddess of dawn and the Greek name for wind. This phenomenon also occurs in the southern hemisphere, where it is known as the “southern lights” or aurora australis. It is usually only observed near the polar regions, but has been seen outside these regions during high levels of solar wind. Some of the best places to view the northern lights include; Alaska, Canada, Norway and Siberia. The cause of the northern lights has been debated throughout history, but today science can answer the question.

What causes the Northern Lights
Aurora borealis is caused by plasma particles (charged gas particles) from the sun that are ejected and make their way towards Earth. This is referred to as solar wind. The plasma interacts with the magnetosphere of Earth and the charged particles enter the Earth’s atmosphere at the polar regions where the magnetic field is the weakest. The particles interact with gases present in the atmosphere and create the spectacular visual phenomenon. The most common colors seen in the aurora borealis are green and brownish red, which are caused by interaction with oxygen at different altitudes. The blue or red colors are caused by interaction with nitrogen.

View this video for a time lapse of the northern lights.

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