What is the Northern Lights?

What Does Northern Lights Mean

We explain what the Northern Lights are, how they are produced and where they can be seen. Also, the northern lights of Iceland, Canada and Norway.

The Northern Lights are an atmospheric phenomenon that occurs near the North Pole.

What is the Northern Lights?

The aurora polaris ( aurora polaris ) is an atmospheric phenomenon that occurs in certain regions of the planet , in the night sky at certain annual periods. It is characterized by the appearance of colored lights in elongated shapes on the sky .

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They occur near the poles and are called the Northern Lights if they occur in the Northern Hemisphere. Those that occur in the southern hemisphere are called southern auroras. This phenomenon has intrigued humanity since time immemorial, and was associated with snakes or dragons that crossed the sky , or with particular gods.

Its scientific study began in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, until discovering that they are particles ejected by the Sun in its periodic combustions and that crash against the magnetosphere of our planet. In 1896 the Norwegian physicist Kristian Birkeland managed to reproduce them in the laboratory, greatly facilitating their understanding.

Polar auroras can best be seen between September and March (northern hemisphere) or between March and September (southern hemisphere). Its shape, colors and duration can vary enormously, oscillating between silhouettes near the horizon and beams of light that cover the entire sky, tending to disappear as dawn approaches.

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How is an aurora borealis produced?

The polar aurora is produced by the collision of the solar wind and the magnetosphere.

The polar auroras are produced when the magnetic layer that surrounds our planet, known as the magnetosphere, comes into contact with a diverse series of charged solar particles , originating from some ejection of the star king into space. These ejections are known as the solar wind .

These particles travel at speeds of approximately 490 to 1000 kmps, covering the distance between our planet and the center of the Solar System in just two days. However, when they approach our atmosphere, the Earth's magnetic field repels them, and they flow around the planet like water in a river does in front of a stone, following the pattern of the magnetosphere.

A few particles are trapped in the magnetosphere , charging atoms in the upper layers of our atmosphere , which release excess energy in the form of visible light . It is a process similar to that which occurs inside neon tubes.

Where are the northern lights seen?

As we have said, polar auroras are usually seen in the vicinity of each Earth's pole, although they can be observed for short periods in other regions. This depends on the intensity of solar activity. The most common areas for observing the auroras are:

  • North Hemisphere. The coasts of Iceland are a frequent observation point from late August to April, as well as in Alaska, United States, specifically in the vicinity of Denali National Park. The same in the Canadian Northwest Territories, near the town of Yellowknife, or in the greater urban region of northern Norway, very close to the Arctic Circle, in Tromsǿ.
  • Southern hemisphere. The southern auroras in southern Tasmania, Australia and New Zealand are famously beautiful and can be seen throughout the year. However, the best location for this is Antarctica itself, the frozen continent, at least on its habitable coasts that face the southern American cone. In this sense, the last cities and regions of Argentina and Chile can also be eventual observation points, such as the island of Ushuaia.

Northern Lights in Iceland

In Iceland, the beauty of the Kirkjufellsfoss waterfall is combined with the northern lights.

Iceland has regions close to the Arctic Circle that are ideal for observing auroras, especially between September and March, between 6:00 p.m. and 4:00 a.m., on the island's north coast. It should be taken into account that it is a sparsely populated region compared to the warmer south coast where the capital Reykjavik is located.

Northern Lights in Canada

Northern lights in Yukon, Canada.

The northern lights in Canada can be best appreciated between October and March , in the darkest period, although they are present throughout the year. The ideal territories to do so are in the northwest region and in the Yukon, especially in Whitehorse, Yellowknife, Tuktoyaktuk, Nunavut, Manitoba, Kuujjuaq or British Columbia and Alberta.

Northern Lights in Norway

Aurora Borealis in Tromso, Norway.

In principle, the auroras can be seen from all over the country , although obviously the best regions are around the border with the Arctic Circle and the best time between September and March. The Lofoten Islands and the coast to Cape Verde are good viewing points, as is Tromsǿ.

Southern aurora

The southern auroras can be observed mainly on the bases of Antarctica.

The southern auroras are just as beautiful as the boreal ones, and they do not have any kind of distinction except that they are found in the southern hemisphere . However, they are less famous because there are no populations near the South Pole, but the population of Antarctica is limited to the inhabitants of scientific and military bases.

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