Got a Bucket List? Well, we’re willing to bet that somewhere on that list you have the Aurora Borealis, otherwise known as the Northern Lights. This stunningly beautiful light formation occurs in the skies over the Northern Hemisphere. These can traditionally be seen from countries like Iceland, Greenland, and many of the Scandinavian nations.
Those who live at high altitudes will, from time to time, experience beautiful, colorful, iridescent lights shimmering across the sky at night. These are known as Aurora, the name given to the stunning light show we sometimes hear about. The most famous of these Auroras is the Northern Lights, and they have become a big part of Western culture. These colorful, magical lights are enchanting to look at, but how are they caused?
The science bit
The lights are actually caused, indirectly, by the Sun. The Sun is millions of miles away from the Earth, but, even at night when it’s not shining, it still affects us. Storms that occur on the surface of the sun create solar particles that are flung in the direction of Earth. They collide with the atmospheric atoms and ions on the surface of the Earth, and our atmosphere and magnetic fields react. The charged particles excite the atoms, causing them to light up, and leading to these wonderful Aurora light shows we sometimes see. The effect is actually similar to the way neon signs for businesses work.
Why the colors?
The colors of the Aurora have long been a source of mystery and debate as well. For many years nobody knew why they were certain colors, but we have since been given an answer. It turns out that the natural gases in the Earth’s atmosphere are what affect the different colors of the Aurora lights. For the most part, they are green (caused by oxygen), but they can also be red, blue, pink, and yellow on occasion as well. Some also believe that the colors can be dependent on the wavelength of the light that is emitted. This is also caused and effected by the gases in the atmosphere.
Seeing the lights
There are many places you can go to see the lights, we mentioned Scandinavia earlier, but, also, places like Northern Canada, Alaska, and even Oregon can be great spots to view Aurora lights. These amazing lights have been around for centuries, and were once thought to be supernatural in origin – you can understand why. They were said to symbolize coming war or destruction, but the theory evolved over the years. The lights are always present, no matter what time of year it is, but the best time to see them is in winter when the air is cleaner and crisper.
If you have the opportunity to see any Aurora lights in your life, make sure you take it. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be the Aurora Borealis, though these are the most famous. Seeing a breathtaking light display would be the ideal way of capping off a wonderful Scandinavian vacation. Sidebar – you may not be aware that there are also Southern Lights. However, because the South Pole is almost uninhabitable, it is a darn sight harder to see them than it is to see the Northern Lights.