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The Northern Lights Explained

Seattle, WA
Northern Lights, Iceland, Aurora, borealis, space, science, sun, nasa, nature, lights, astronomy, norway, solar winds, particles, colors
The Northern Lights appearing over Iceland

The Northern Lights are the dazzling colored lights that occur in the night skies of the northern hemisphere. This phenomenon is also called Aurora Borealis after the Roman goddess of morning, Aurora, by Galileo Galilei in 1619.


The sun releases a stream of charged particles, called solar winds, that travel at speeds of close to 400 km per second. When solar winds collide with the Earth’s atmosphere, our magnetic field protects it from entering the majority of the Earth.


Instead, the solar winds are directed to the Earth's poles (there are southern lights too!) where the magnetic field isn’t as strong, so some of the particles interact with the upper atmosphere. As the solar wind collides with the atoms in our atmosphere, it eventually slows to a stop, leaving behind arcs of colored light.


Northern Lights, Iceland, Aurora, borealis, space, science, sun, nasa, nature, lights, astronomy, norway, solar winds, particles, colors
Pink hues in the Northern Lights

The colors vary depending on how the solar winds interact with the atoms in our atmosphere. When charged particles react with the oxygen atoms in the atmosphere, those atoms emit the green color that we commonly see in the Northern Lights. There are occasionally hues of pink or red too!


Although the Northern Lights are a frequent occurrence, they are at their peak every 11 years when solar activity tends to be the strongest. They are best seen in northern areas in the world like Norway, Greenland, northern Canada, Alaska, and Iceland. The Auroras are a popular tourist attraction, as seeing this natural spectacle would be a great addition to anyone's bucket list.


It's a bright idea to check out these STEM·E events!
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