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Aurora (astronomy)

Auroras, sometimes called the northern and southern (polar) lights or aurorae (singular: aurora), are natural light displays in the sky, usually observed at night, particularly in the polar regions. They typically occur in the ionosphere. They are also referred to as polar auroras. In northern latitudes, the effect is known as the aurora borealis, named after the Roman goddess of dawn, Aurora, and the Greek name for north wind, Boreas, by Pierre Gassendi in 1621.[1] The aurora borealis is also called the northern polar lights, as it is only visible in the sky from the Northern Hemisphere, the chance of visibility increasing with proximity to the North Magnetic Pole, which is currently in the arctic islands of northern Canada. Auroras seen near the magnetic pole may be high overhead, but from further away, they illuminate the northern horizon as a greenish glow or sometimes a faint red, as if the sun were rising from an unusual direction. The aurora borealis most often occurs near the equinoxes; from September to October and from March to April. The northern lights have had a number of names throughout history. The Cree people call this phenomenon the "Dance of the Spirits." In the middle age the auroras has been called by sign of God (see Wilfried Schrder, Das Phnomen des Polarlichts, Darmstadt 1984). Auroras can be spotted throughout the world. It is most visible closer to the poles due to the longer periods of darkness and the magnetic field. Its southern counterpart, the aurora australis or the southern polar lights, has similar properties, but is only visible from high southern latitudes in Antarctica, South America, or Australasia. Australis is the Latin word for "of the South." Auroral mechanism Auroras are the result of the emissions of photons in the Earth's upper atmosphere, above 80 km (50 miles), from ionized nitrogen atoms regaining an electron, and oxygen and nitrogen atoms returning from an excited state to ground state. They are ionized or excited by the collision of solar wind particles being funneled down and accelerated along the Earth's magnetic field lines; excitation energy is lost by the emission of a photon of light, or by collision with another atom or molecule: oxygen emissions Green or brownish-red, depending on the amount of energy absorbed. nitrogen emissions Blue or red. Blue if the atom regains an electron after it has been ionized. Red if returning to ground state from an excited state. Oxygen is a little unusual in terms of its return to ground state, it can take three quarters of a second to emit green light, and up to two minutes to emit red. Collisions with other atoms or molecules will absorb the excitation energy and prevent emission. The very top of the atmosphere is both a higher percentage of oxygen, and so thin that such collisions are rare

enough to allow time for oxygen to emit red. Collisions become more frequent progressing down into the atmosphere, so that red emissions do not have time to happen, and eventually even green light emissions are prevented. This is why there is a colour differential with altitude; at high altitude oxygen red dominates, then oxygen green and nitrogen blue/red, then finally nitrogen blue/red when collisions prevent oxygen from emitting anything.

A predominantly red aurora australis Auroras are associated with the solar wind, a flow of ions continuously flowing outward from the sun. The Earth's magnetic field traps these particles, many of which travel toward the poles where they are accelerated toward earth. Collisions between these ions and atmospheric atoms and molecules causes energy releases in the form of auroras appearing in large circles around the poles. Auroras are more frequent and brighter during the intense phase of the solar cycle when coronal mass ejections increase the intensity of the solar wind.[2] Seen from space, these fiery curtains form a thin ring in the shape of a monks tonsure. Forms and magnetism Northern lights over Calgary Typically the aurora appears either as a diffuse glow or as "curtains" that approximately extend in the east-west direction. At some times, they form "quiet arcs"; at others ("active aurora"), they evolve and change constantly. Each curtain consists of many parallel rays, each lined up with the local direction of the magnetic field lines, suggesting that aurora is shaped by Earth's magnetic field. Indeed, satellites show electrons to be guided by magnetic field lines, spiraling around them while moving towards Earth. The similarity to curtains is often enhanced by folds called "striations". When the field line guiding a bright auroral patch leads to a point directly above the observer, the aurora may appear as a "corona" of diverging rays, an effect of perspective. Although it was first mentioned by Ancient Greek explorer/geographer Pytheas, Hiorter and Celsius first described in 1741 evidence for magnetic control, namely, large magnetic fluctuations occurred whenever the aurora was observed overhead. This indicates (it was later realized) that large electric currents were associated with the aurora, flowing in the region where auroral light originated. Kristian Birkeland (1908)[3] deduced that the currents flowed in the east-west directions along the auroral arc, and such currents, flowing from the dayside towards (approximately) midnight were later named "auroral electrojets" (see also Birkeland currents). On 26 February 2008, THEMIS probes were able to determine, for the first time, the triggering event for the onset of magnetospheric substorms [4]. Two of the five probes, positioned approximately one third the distance to the moon, measured events suggesting a magnetic reconnection event 96 seconds prior to auroral intensification [5]. Dr. Vassilis Angelopoulos of the

University of California, Los Angeles, the principal investigator for the THEMIS mission, claimed, "Our data show clearly and for the first time that magnetic reconnection is the trigger." [6]. Still more evidence for a magnetic connection are the statistics of auroral observations. Elias Loomis (1860) and later in more detail Hermann Fritz (1881)[7] established that the aurora appeared mainly in the "auroral zone", a ring-shaped region with a radius of approximately 2500 km around Earth's magnetic pole. It was hardly ever seen near the geographic pole, which is about 2000 km away from the magnetic pole. The instantaneous distribution of auroras ("auroral oval", Yasha/Jakob Feldstein 1963[8]) is slightly different, centered about 3-5 degrees nightward of the magnetic pole, so that auroral arcs reach furthest towards the equator around midnight. The aurora can be seen best at this time. ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------In plain english: What are the northern lights and what causes them?

The northern lights are a colorful undulating glow that can be seen in the night sky, usually in the north polar region. These lights are also called the "aurora borealis", which is Latin for "northern dawn". This phenomenon also occurs in the southern hemis phere. The lights near the south pole are called the "aurora austrailis". What causes the northern lights anyway? When electrically charged particles from the Sun collide with the Earth's upper atmosphere, they cause the atmospheric atoms and ions to radiate different colors and bands of light. What do the aurora borealis look like? If you look at the picture above, you see that the "aurora borealis" and "aurora austrailis" usually look like a diffuse glow of different colors or they can sometimes have a curtain-like appearance that extend out in an east-west direction. Sometimes, they form whispy arcs and other times they do a dance across the sky. The auroras are most likely shaped like the Earth's magnetic field.

The Earth's magnetic field Our planet is like a gigantic magnet, because the Earth's magnetic field surrounds the entire planet and comes together in a funnel shape near the north and south poles. The Earth's magnetic field, called the magnetosphere, protects our planet from the Sun's radiation, this radiation is called the solar wind. What is the source of the aurora? The energy source of these dazzling lights in the night sky is the solar wind. The solar wind is a plasma sream of electrically charged particles that continuously flow out from the Sun.The particles from the solar wind get trapped and create the spectacle called the "aurora borealis". -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------How the Lights got their colors Have you ever wondered how the Northern Lights get their different colors... or how neon lights get their color? The glass tubes of neon signs are filled with gas. When they are turned on, the electrical voltage energizes electrons in the gas, causing them to emit light. The color of the light you see depends on the type of gas in the tube. Every gas creates a different color of light: helium - orange/white, neon - red/orange, argon lavender, krypton - gray/green, and so on. Click for more information. The colors of auroras are determined by the gases in the Earth's atmosphere, and incoming solar particles tend to collide with different gases at different heights. Very high up (above 300 km / 185 miles), oxygen is the most common gas, and collisions there can create a rare red aurora. The common yellow-to-green light is produced by collisions with oxygen at lower altitudes (between 100-300 km / 60-185 miles). Around 100 km / 60 miles, nitrogen molecules produce a red light that often seems to form the lower fringes on auroral curtains. Lighter gases high in the atmosphere, like hydrogen and helium, make blue and purple colors, but we cannot always see them in the night sky. -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Q: Why does it have different colors for the northern lights? A: Answer Because diffrent types of solar flare radiation traveling at diffrent speeds hit the Earth's atmosphere thus projecting red, green, blue,and white ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Why its easier to see the Northern Lights at the poles: ------------------------------------------------------------------------------Northern Lights in Alaska Viewing the Northern Lights The Northern Lights are curtains of colored light in the upper atmosphere, caused by magnetic disturbances from the sun collide with atoms there. Technically known as an "aurora" (the North Pole aurora is called the aurora borealis), the Northern Lights give off colors that include red, green, blue, and violet, and a single display can last 10 to 15 minutes. Where to See the Northern Lights in Alaska The Northern Lights can be seen to some extent anywhere above 60 degrees north latitude. At 65 degrees, Fairbanks is within the so-called "aurora oval," the area where Northern Lights occur most often and are brightest. In fact, the Fairbanks Visitors Bureau says you have an 80 percent chance of seeing them if you stay there for three nights. Denali, at 63 degrees north, is also a good spot to view the Northern Lights. Other Alaska places are far enough north for good for viewing, but are hard to get to and offer fewer accommodations. The next-best options are Nome (64 degrees) and Anchorage (61 degrees). However, the Northern Lights can sometimes be seen as far south as Juneau or Sitka. When to See the Northern Lights in Alaska By the time you get far enough north to see the Northern Lights more reliably, you've entered the area of perpetual twilight from late April through September. Seasonal cloudiness is also worst in August. What's the best time to see the Northern Lights? September 22 or March 22, on a new moon night, very late at night or early in the morning, a "perfect storm" that may not occur very often nor match your travel plans. These characteristics may help you decide when to make your trip to see the Northern Lights. They are: * Most frequent around the spring and fall equinoxes (September 22 and March 22) * Most active late at night or early in the morning * Most intense from December to March when nights are longer, the sky clearer and darker. This is also the coldest part of the year, reaching as low as -40 F. * Brighter during the new moon.