The Northern Lights, also known as the Aurora Borealis, are captivating and magical lights in the night sky near the Earth’s North Pole or northern regions, captivating the imagination with their stunning colors and ethereal movements. To understand the Northern Lights from a scientific perspective, we need to understand a bit of physics.
The Northern Lights are caused by the interaction of charged particles being released from the Sun with Earth’s magnetic field and atmosphere. The Sun is constantly releasing charged particles called the solar wind. As these escape and approach the Earth, they are trapped by the magnetic field mainly in the regions of the Poles. When these charged particles collide with molecules in the atmosphere, such as oxygen and nitrogen, they energize them by causing the electrons in them to move to higher energy states.
Once the electrons inside these particles return to an equilibrium state, they emit these beautiful colors that we see dancing in the sky. Oxygen usually gives green and red and Nitrogen blue and purple.
As mentioned, the magnetic field captures these particles in the Poles. So, the Aurora Borealis do not only exist in the North but in the South. As fewer people live there, they are rarely seen and captured by humans near Antarctica.
There are certain periods of time when these lights are more dynamic and seen from lower altitudes. The sun has an 11-year-old cycle during which it has some periods of higher activity. These produce more powerful stellar winds resulting in stronger auroras.
Myths about the Northern Lights are widely spread, especially in the northern cultures that tried to give an explanation. For them, they could be the spirits of ancestors or mythical creatures that move across the sky. In other myths, the lights are celestial messages or provide a bridge that connects Earth with the heavenly realm, giving more enchantment to the phenomenon and captivating the imagination of humanity.
📷 Here are some pictures taken by the very own collaborators of Uni-Mag:
Kateriniovi Triantafyllaki, Estonia
Faye Papadiamanti, Lapland
(student’s astronomy team, University of Crete)