How Aurora Borealis Happens

BY: ZACH McGOWAN

Aurora Borealis, or the Northern Lights, is a phenomenon that happens at night near the north pole (called Aurora Australis at the south pole). You’ve probably seen pictures of it, or been lucky enough to see it in person; it looks like giant, glowing, colorful waves in the night sky. It is mostly green, but there is usually a large amount of purple and some blue mixed in as well. 

The Northern Lights come from the Sun blasting out electric particles into space. The particles enter the Earth’s atmosphere and mix with gaseous particles in the air. The reaction creates a different colored glow based on what the Sun particles mixed with. Oxygen is green and blue or purple is from nitrogen. There are billions and billions of these gaseous and electric particles in the air, so that’s why the aurora is so big.

The places to see the aurora are far up in the northern hemisphere, around northern Canada, Greenland, Scandinavia, and Siberia. You can get spectacular views there. The aurora doesn’t usually go farther south than that. There have been a few sightings over the years in the USA, but it is very rare and only when the Earth is in a position where that can happen.

The reason the auroras only happen in the poles is because the Sun’s particles are attracted to the poles, like a magnet. They wouldn’t be absorbed outside of the poles because of this, and therefore no aurora. 

It is called Aurora Borealis because of the Roman goddess of the Sun, Aurora, and the Greek god of the north, Boreas. Aurora Australis is because of the Latin word for south.

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