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Aurora Borealis

A Spectacle of Space
By Mikayla Austin & Allye Baker

History of the Aurora

-Since before written history, the Auroras have baffled and

inspired many throughout the world, and have led to fantastical
art, religion, and folklore.
-After the medieval age, towards the end of the Renaissance,
people began the journey of its scientific reasoning.
-Between the late 1800s, and throughout the 20 th Century,
scientists were able to discover many things due to evolved
knowledge, and technology.
-However, the first documentation of the auroras dates back to
2600 B.C., in Ancient China.

History continued
-Although the auroras have captivated humans for
centuries, it has only been recently discovered that the
lights are just a response to the collision of the
electromagnetic field solar activity.
-Over recent decades, thanks to coordinated multisatellite observations, and a worldwide network of
magnetic sensors, and cameras, close study of the
auroras has become possible.
-We can attribute some of the most groundbreaking
scientific achievements around the auroras to THEMIS.


-THEMIS is a five-spacecraft mission dedicated to understanding

the processes behind auroras, as well as to achieve frequent
flight opportunities for the investigation within the Heliophysics
and Astrophysics.
-Using data from NASAs Time History of Events and Macroscale
Interactions during Substorms, or THEMIS, scientists have
observed Earths vibrating magnetic field in relation to the
northern lights dancing in the night sky.
Auroras erupt across the sky in response to changes in Earths
magnetic environment, called the magnetosphere.
-Substorms are the sudden violent eruptions of space weather
that release solar energy trapped in Earth's magnetic field.
Magnetic field video:

Physics Behind the Phenomenon

-The space environment of our entire solar system, both
near Earth and far beyond Pluto, is determined by the suns
activity, which cycles and fluctuates through time.
-The solar system is filled with solar wind, the constant flow
of charged particles from the sun.
-Most of the solar wind is deflected from Earth by our
planets protective magnetosphere.
-Auroras are caused by fast moving electrons from space
colliding with the oxygen and nitrogen in Earths upper
-Manifested through the solar winds ,blowing outwards from
the sun, the electrons travel to the earths magnetosphere
(the region of space controlled by Earths magnetic field) .

An artists rendering (not to scale) of a cross-section of the magnetosphere, with the solar wind on the
left in yellow and magnetic field lines emanating from the Earth in blue.

-The five THEMIS probes were well-positioned to directly observe one particular
magnetic field line as it oscillated back, and forth, roughly every six minutes.
-The electrons, depicted as white dots, stream rapidly down the magnetic field lines
towards Earths poles.
-There, they interact with oxygen and nitrogen particles in the upper atmosphere,
releasing photons and brightening a specific region of the aurora.

Physics Continued
-Upon the arrival of the electrons to the
magnetosphere, they transfer their energy to the
oxygen and nitrogen molecules found in the
-This transfer of energy gives themselves (more
particularly, the atoms) a boost into a higher energy
level, or excited state.
-As the gases return to their original lower energy
state, they emit photons, small bursts of energy in the
form of light causing the auroras glow.
-This ghostly, beautiful light, originates at altitudes
between 60 to over 250 miles.

Where to See Them

-Auroras are typically seen most frequently at higher
latitudes, and closer to the North and South poles (such
as in Canada, Alaska, or Antarctica), but have also
been seen closer to the equator, as far South as Mexico.

-However, the best place to see them is from space,

where the aurora creates a crown of light that circles
each of Earths poles.
-From Earths surface, the ring appears as a curtain of
light shimmering across the night sky.