June 14, 2024

What are the aurora borealis and where do you see the phenomenon in the sky?

6 min read
What are the aurora borealis and where do you see the phenomenon in the sky?

The aurora borealis is a very fascinating phenomenon, providing a real spectacle of colorful lights in the sky. Viewed from the surface, the aurora borealis leaves any observer in a daze, and when viewed from space, it’s even more exciting. But, after all, what is the aurora borealis? How are the aurora borealis formed? And where does the aurora borealis occur on our planet? This is what you discover in this article!

What is the aurora borealis?

The aurora borealis can have different colors such as red, green, purple, etc. (Photo: Reproduction/Matt Hutton/Unsplash)

The aurora borealis is a beautiful natural phenomenon, usually occurring as luminous curtains in the sky, but can also be seen as arcs or spirals, always following the lines of the Earth’s magnetic field. The northern lights are seen in different regions of the Northern Hemisphere, such as Canada, for example, as well as in Scandinavia. But the aurora borealis can also occur in the Southern Hemisphere – even with the geographical difference, the processes that shape them are essentially the same. In this case, they are called the Australian Twilight.

One of the most prominent features of the aurora borealis is its beautiful colors. For a long time, these colors have been the subject of many speculations about what was behind them, but today, we know that different gases on Earth are responsible for the aurora color variations, along with altitude. In general, the aurora comes from the interaction of charged particles from the sun with particles in the Earth’s atmosphere.

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If these particles react with oxygen at high altitudes, they will produce a reddish glow. The typical green color comes from particles colliding with oxygen atoms at lower altitudes, while red and blue lights can appear due to interactions with nitrogen atoms. Finally, particles that encounter hydrogen and helium atoms can produce blue and purple auroras, which are difficult for the human eye to see.

How are the aurora borealis formed?

When particles from the Sun encounter particles in the middle of the magnetic field, they irritate them and thus cause emissions and light (Image: cloning/DESY)

Due to their dependence on the occurrence of solar particles, the process that leads to the appearance of the aurora borealis begins in the sun. The gases at very high temperatures found in our star consist of electrically charged particles. These particles are constantly released from the surface of the star in a flux called solar wind, which transports them across the solar system – and beyond. Since our planet is in the middle of this stream, particles from the Sun end up colliding with the Earth’s magnetic field.

This magnetic field consists of lines leaving the South Pole, crossing the Earth’s core and reaching the North Pole, and bending outward from the poles. In this way, the fonts create a file magnetism, a kind of “bubble” that protects us from charged particles from space, which would easily be able to destroy the Earth’s atmosphere if it were not for the protective action of our magnetic field. But even though the magnetosphere blocks most of the particles in the solar wind, there are still some that “escape” from it.

When this happens, these particles go to regions of the ionosphere that are concentrated around Earth’s magnetic poles. Once there, the particles collide with atoms in Earth’s atmosphere, such as oxygen and nitrogen, and these collisions release energy in the form of colored lights in the polar regions, creating what are called auroras. Most of them occur from 90 to 1000 km above the Earth’s surface, and since they depend on the solar wind, It gets sharper when our star is most active.

By the way, the The aurora borealis is not unique to Earth. Since they only need an atmosphere and a magnetic field to occur, planets that display these two characteristics can also have their own auroras. The evidence for this is that astronomers have already noticed that they occur in some of our solar system’s neighbors. like Jupiter and Saturn, which have already shown the aurora borealis in their polar regions.

And what is the aurora borealis?

Although it is commonly used as a reference to the phenomenon, the name “aurora borealis” actually refers only to those that occur in the northern hemisphere. The lights that appear in the sky of the southern hemisphere, on the other hand, are called the “southern aurora”. Like the northern lights, the Australian aurora is also caused by interactions between electrically charged solar particles and atoms in Earth’s atmosphere. In doing so, they send out the lights in the form of bright and colorful curtains like their “sisters” in the north.

Australian auroras occur most intensely in an elliptical region, centered around the south magnetic pole. It’s hard to predict exactly when any of them will appear in the sky from different places in the Southern Hemisphere, and are most common during fall and winter – but sometimes they can also be seen from March to September. Although the aurora and aurora borealis have the same causes, they do not always occur at the same time – in fact, both may shine in the skies of both hemispheres at the same magnetic time, but this is not a general rule.

lines Earth’s magnetic field Symmetrical curve, meaning that the aurora borealis and australis are expected to appear in identical locations in the northern and southern hemispheres. However, a synchronization scenario for both is rare. One possible explanation for this is that these differences are caused by the Sun, whose magnetic field distorts our planet and affects its symmetry, but this problem remains the subject of research.

Where is the aurora borealis?

The aurora borealis are most intense between 9pm and 3am (Image: Reproduction/Twitter/@whereisweatherb)

The northern lights are such an impressive phenomenon that they inspire travelers from all over the world to go to the polar regions just to observe them. Of course, to be able to see it bright in the sky, it is necessary to add some conditions, such as a night with a clear sky and away from light pollution – and if possible, a night without a full moon. The ideal period to see it in the sky varies depending on where you want it, but a good reference window is between August and April.

Often the best destinations to see the aurora borealis in the sky are Alaska, Canada, Iceland, Greenland, Sweden and Finland. Norway is a very popular destination for those who want to see the aurora borealis due to its very privileged location, as the country is located in the middle of the ‘belt of dawn’, the oval area where the lights are lit.

On the other hand, the Australian Northern Lights can be seen in fewer places than the Northern Lights. In these cases, the ideal would be to look for them mainly in New Zealand and Tasmania, located south of Australia. These are the regions closest to the magnetic south pole, and also the most accessible – another option would be Antarctica, but let’s face it, it is very difficult to “tourist” there, because the weather conditions on this frozen continent are not the most pleasant for travelers, and there are much fewer opportunities for flights and ships that travel to the area.

Source: Smithsonian MagAnd Scientific AmericanAnd Forbes, National Geographic (1And 2), universe today

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