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What exactly is Aurora Borealis

What exactly is Aurora Borealis?

The northern lights are also known as the aurora borealis, meaning light of dawn. It’s said the term was first coined by Galileo in 1623 and is derived from ‘Aurora’, the goddess of the dawn and ‘Boreas’, the northern wind personified.

Fun Fact!

The Aurora Borealis: Nature’s Nighttime Symphony

The Aurora Borealis, also known as the Northern Lights, stands as one of the most stunning natural phenomena that our planet has to offer. This spectacular display of lights that dances across the polar skies has fascinated people for millennia, inspiring myths, influencing art, and attracting countless visitors to the colder, northern regions of our world.

What Causes the Aurora Borealis?

At the heart of the Northern Lights is a process that begins 93 million miles away on the surface of the sun. Solar activity, including solar flares and coronal mass ejections, releases a massive amount of particles, predominantly electrons and protons. When these particles travel towards Earth, carried by the solar wind, they encounter the magnetic shield known as the Earth’s magnetosphere.

The magnetosphere directs these charged particles towards the poles, where they collide with the gases in Earth’s upper atmosphere, causing these gases to light up. This interaction generally occurs between 50 to 400 miles above the Earth’s surface. Oxygen molecules emit green and red light, while nitrogen produces blue and purple hues. The intensity and movement of these lights are a direct result of the varying amount of solar particles entering the atmosphere and how they mix with different gases.

Viewing the Aurora Borealis

The best times to view the Northern Lights are typically during the winter months, from September to April. This is when nights are longest in the Arctic regions, providing a dark canvas against which the lights can truly shine. The ideal conditions for viewing are clear, dark nights, far from the light pollution of urban areas.

Regions like the Arctic Circle, including parts of Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Canada, offer some of the best vantage points. In these locations, special tours and accommodations cater to aurora viewers, ranging from glass igloos in Finland to heated yurts in Canada.

The Cultural Impact of the Aurora

The Northern Lights have deep cultural significance in the folklore and mythology of many northern peoples. To the Vikings, the auroras were the reflections of the shields and armor of the Valkyries, warrior maidens of the god Odin. In many Native American cultures, the lights were seen as the spirits of their people.

Scientific Research and Environmental Indicators

Beyond their visual beauty, the auroras are of great scientific interest. Researchers study these lights to understand more about the Earth’s magnetic field and the behavior of solar particles. This research has practical implications, such as improving our ability to forecast space weather events that can affect satellite operations and power grids on Earth.

Furthermore, changes in the patterns and intensity of the auroras could serve as indicators of changes in Earth’s environment and climate, potentially offering clues about the shifting dynamics of our planet’s atmosphere and magnetic field.


The Aurora Borealis is more than just a beautiful spectacle; it is a complex, dynamic display that connects us to the vast processes of the cosmos. Whether you seek to understand its science or simply bask in its ethereal glow, the Northern Lights offer a unique and unforgettable experience that highlights the natural wonders of our world.


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