Aurora Borealis 4

Aurora Borealis – Naturally Weird Science of the Northern Lights

Aurora Borealis

Even before it was dubbed Aurora Borealis by Pierre Gassendi in 1621, the amazing light show witnessed around the northern pole of the earth had been astonishing mankind. Also known as the Northern Lights, the Aurora is caused by collisions between electrically charged particles from the sun, this strange yet awe inspiring natural wonder lives up to its majestic name; Aurora for the Roman ‘Goddess of the Dawn”, and Borealis, the Latin word for “The God of The North Wind”.

Naturally Weird Science

Charged particles carried from the sun to the earth by solar winds enter the earths’ atmosphere at the magnetic poles and collide with gas particles, emitting the light known as the Aurora. Called ‘Aurora Australis’ at the South Pole, this electrifying lightshow can present its self in several different colors depending on the type of gas particles that are colliding in the atmosphere, and the altitude at which they collide.

photo credit: GuideGunnar – Arctic Norway via photopin cc

The most common green coloring is caused by oxygen molecules colliding about 60 miles above the earth, while oxygen particles colliding at high-altitudes of up to 200 miles produce rare red Auroras. Blue or purplish-red auroras are caused by Nitrogen particles.

Thought to be affected by sunspot activity since about 1880, the lights can extend anywhere from 50 miles to 400 miles above the earths’ surface, and appear in various forms such as rays of light, arcs, rippling streamers, and eerily glowing clouds.

Aurora Borealis 5
photo credit: Moyan_Brenn (back soon, sorry for not commenting) via photopin cc

Northern Lights Influence

It is no wonder that various cultural groups around the world possess legends about the Aurora Borealis, nor that the lights were considered to be harbingers of bad things to come in medieval times. The lights have also been mistaken for reflections of torches or campfires by many northern civilizations inhabiting Europe and North America, and particularly the Maori people of New Zealand in the past.

Even today, the odd glow of the Northern Lights apparently strikes fear into the hearts of some people, causing doctors to classify this fear as Auroraphobia! Whether or not ones’ fear of this natural spectacle grows to the extent of an all-out phobia, it is understandable that some feel threatened by this eerie light.

Aurora Borealis
photo credit: nick_russill via photopin cc

Fortunately for the purposes of this article, there are plenty of people who are drawn to the Northern Lights like moths to street lights. Lacking their phobic counterparts’ potentially irrational fear of the lights, these adventuresome individuals bring stunning images of the atmospheric oddity to the world.

Aurora Borealis 4
photo credit: NASA Goddard Photo and Video via photopin cc

For many, the fascination for the odd glow of natural luminescence such as this knows no bounds, and we creatively attempt to recreate this naturally beautiful lighting with fiber optics, neon lights, and glow in the dark plastics, among other things. No matter how hard we may try though, nothing compares to the shows that Mother Nature puts on, especially the Aurora Borealis!

Aurora Borealis – Naturally Weird Science of the Northern Lights


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