Aurora Borealis

Aurora Borealis the Northern Lights of Canada

Aurora Borealis - Northern LightsThe Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights, look like huge, shimmering, gossamer curtains blowing in the wind. There is a magical quality to the Aurora Borealis that is unforgettable and yet indescribable to those who have not seen them. The colours of the Aurora Borealis can be primarily an iridescent whitish green with red to purple highlights, or spectacular reds and oranges with large patches of green. The Aurora Borealis can be in patches, columns, waves or spectacular combinations of all of these. Every time you watch the Northern Lights they invoke memories of the last time you watched and yet they are always different and new at the same time.

You can see the Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights better in Canada than anywhere else in the world because the Aurora Borealis is centred around the Magnetic North Pole which comes up through Baffin Island in Canada’s Arctic.

When the Aurora Borealis is at it’s strongest, you can see Northern Lights on clear moonless nights almost anywhere in Canada away from the city lights. As you go further north the likelihood of seeing Northern Lights becomes greater, and the Aurora Borealis you see becomes brighter and more spectacular.

For as long as our species has been on the earth people have looked at the Aurora Borealis with awe and fear. People have worshipped the Northern Lights as sprits or gods, people have feared the northern lights and made songs about the Aurora Borealis. But, what are the Northern Lights? How are the Northern Lights created or made.

The Aurora Borealis, and the Aurora Australis around the South Magnetic Pole, are still not fully understood. The Aurora Borealis is not created by sunlight reflecting off of the polar ice at the north and south pole as people once believed. We now know that the earth’s auroras are caused by an interaction between our earth’s magnetic field and radiation from our sun. Besides light and heat, our sun constantly emits streams of charged particles we know as Solar Wind. The protons and electrons in the Solar Wind interact with our Earth’s magnetic field. As these charged particles come into our atmosphere they smash into the atmospheric gases, such as nitrogen and oxygen, in our upper atmosphere. When the charged particles in the solar wind collide with the atoms of nitrogen and oxygen, they transfer a lot of energy to the atoms which enter a more excited state. As the atoms collapse back into a normal state they shed energy which is given off as light of various colours and intensities, which are the Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis that we see.

The different colours in the Aurora Borealis depends on the altitude and the type of gas the solar wind plasma hits. Oxygen in the lower atmosphere produces the whitish green colours in the Northern Lights. Oxygen in the higher altitudes glows red. Hydrogen and Helium in the highest ranges of the atmosphere make the blue and purple highlights of the Aurora Borealis.

The scientific explanations help us to understand the source of the Aurora Borealis, but when you actually see the Aurora Borealis you have no doubt that there is magic in nature and the Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis are one of the most spectacular results of nature’s magic.

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