Is seeing the Northern Lights up close on your bucket list? Whether your answer is yes, or no, one thing is for sure, the Northern Lights are truly impressive! So, witnessing them ourselves for the first time will be an amazing life-defining moment! Imagine the lights flickering and dancing across the sky, swirling through a kaleidoscope of color, surely an experience to remember.
Before you start organizing your Northern Lights’ experience, here are 28 interesting facts about the Northern Lights that’ll sweep you of your feet…
What are the Northern Lights?
Collisions between electrically charged particles from The Sun
The captivating bright dancing lights of the aurora are in fact collisions between electrically charged particles from the sun that enter the earth’s atmosphere. As the electrons collide with one another they release energy responsible for the distinct colors.
North and south
In the north they are known as Northern Lights, Polar Lights or ‘Aurora borealis’ and in the south as Southern Lights or ‘Aurora australis’.
The northern lights appear in many colors although pale green and pink are the most common. There are also shades of red, yellow, green, blue, and violet. Different types of atoms will result in different types of colors.
Oxygen and nitrogen
Oxygen causes the green, yellow and red light, while collisions with nitrogen result in the blue light we all know and love.
In fact, the color analyses can tell you about the types of molecules hitting our atmosphere from outer space.
Prominent and colorful
Auroras are more prominent and colorful during sunspot activity on the Sun.
The lights appear in many forms from pieces or scattered clouds of light to ribbons, arcs, moving curtains, or shooting rays that light up the sky with an eerie glow.
24 hours a day
They’re actually there 24 hours a day! You just have to be at the right angle to see them, and don’t forget it can’t be daylight because the colors are swamped by the sunlight.
The Babylonians recorded seeing them in 567 BC. Galileo also noted seeing them back in 1621.
What causes the Northern Lights?
Cause and effect
They’re caused by a mixture of electron excitations and magnetic fields. The Northern Lights are in fact the result of collisions between gaseous particles in the Earth’s atmosphere with charged particles released from the sun’s atmosphere. The charged particles are mostly deflected by the earth’s magnetic field.
The earth’s magnetic field is weaker at either pole
Because of the earth’s weaker magnetic field, some particles enter the earth’s atmosphere and collide with gas particles. These collisions release light that we observe as the dancing lights of the north (and the south).
The correlation between the Northern Lights and sunspot activity has been questioned since about 1880. We now know that electrons and protons from the sun are blown towards the earth on the ‘solar wind’, thanks to research that ran since the 1950s.
The extend of light
The lights of the Aurora generally usually extend from 80 kilometres (50 miles) to as high as 640 kilometres (400 miles) above the earth’s surface.
Where is the best place to watch the Northern Lights?
Where can they be seen?
The Northern lights can be seen above the magnetic poles of the northern and southern hemispheres in an irregularly shaped oval centred over each magnetic pole.
According to scientists, northern and southern auroras are mirror-like images that occur at the same time, with similar shapes and colors.
Northern lights have been seen as far as…
Because the phenomenon occurs near the magnetic poles, northern lights have been seen as far south as New Orleans in the western hemisphere, while similar locations in the east never experience the mysterious lights.
The best places to view them up close
The best places to view the Northern Lights are Sweden, Iceland, Finland, Canada, Greenland, Scotland, Norway, and Alaska. Auroras have even been seen as far south as Mexico!
Can’t be seen often, as they are focused in a ring around Antarctica, and the southern Indian Ocean!
The best watch
Areas where there’s no ‘light pollution’ are the best places to watch for the lights. Areas in the north, in smaller communities, tend to be best!
What’s the best time to watch for auroral displays?
According to researchers
Researchers have also learned that Auroral activity is cyclic, peaking roughly every 11 years.
A good season
Winter in the north is usually a good season to view the lights. In fact, there are many good opportunities to watch the Auroral displays due to the long periods of darkness and the frequency of clear nights.
Legends of the lights
Dawn of the north and south
The meaning of ‘Aurora borealis’, or the lights of the northern hemisphere, is ‘dawn of the north’, while the meaning of the ‘Aurora australis’ is ‘dawn of the south’.
Who was the goddess of the dawn? According to Roman myths Aurora was the goddess of the dawn.
The occurrences of auroral displays in medieval times were seen as harbingers of war or famine.
The Maori of New Zealand
They shared a belief with many northern people of Europe and North America that the lights were reflections from torches or campfires!
The Menominee Indians of Wisconsin
They believed that the lights specified the location of manabai’wok, giants who were the spirits of great hunters and fishermen.
The Inuit of Alaska
According to the Inuit, the lights were the spirits of the animals they hunted: the seals, salmon, deer, and beluga whales.
The Aborigines thought that the lights were the spirits of their people!
Do you know any interesting or fun facts about the Northern Lights? Share them in the comments section below!