The Aurora Borealis, more commonly known as the Northern Lights, is a dancing light show known across the globe for its breathtaking beauty and definite cool factor. These dancing lights are present at both the north (Aurora Borealis) and south (Aurora Australis) poles. Though light and pink are the most commonly featured colours of the Auroras, shades of yellow, blue, purple, and red have also made appearances. This phenomenon takes many shapes, from simple forms like scattered clouds and patches of light to the extraordinary streamers, rays, curtains, waves, and arcs that enthrall anyone lucky enough to see it in person. The lights extend between 80 and 640 kilometers above the Earth’s surface and can be seen most effectively in places like Alaska, Nunavut, Yukon, in waters north of Siberia, and the southern Indian Ocean if you’re interested in going south.
But what causes the light show? The lights are a collision between electrically charged particles that enter our atmosphere from the sun. The ranging colours result from varying types of gas particles colliding. The yellowish light green colour that’s most famous results from colliding oxygen molecules located nearly 100 km from the surface of the Earth. Nitrogen collisions produce blue and purplish-red auroras while high-altitude oxygen (up to 320 km above the Earth’s surface) produces the rare all-red auroras. The responsible particles are thrown from the sun’s atmosphere by its explosions and rotation to escape through holes in the magnetic field. The particles then travel to Earth, blown in by solar winds, and enter our magnetic field at the two weakest points: the poles. The auroras take up a large oval above each pole and are most active every 11 years (2024 is the next peak). Northern winters are the best time to view the Aurora Borealis. For the best viewing opportunity, you’ll want to be in position at midnight, local time.
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