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What are auroras made of?

a sky view looking up at night

Northern Lights are known to be one of the greatest wonders not only in the Arctic, but in the world in general. Every year, tourists flock to the Arctic for the chance to witness one of the most unique experiences you can have in your life: the Aurora Borealis, a night sky filled with a multitude of vibrant colors. Many aurora viewers may wonder what the northern lights are made of and how they form in the first place.

Auroras are caused by interactions between the Earth’s magnetic field and the Sun, and appear as bright, brilliant lights in the sky. Read on for a full explanation of what the northern lights are made of and why they occur.

What are auroras made of?

snow covered mountains in the background

As mentioned above, the Aurora Borealis, also known as the Aurora Borealis, is a phenomenon caused by the interaction of the Sun and the Earth’s atmosphere. We all know that the sun emits light, which sustains life on earth, but light is not the only thing that the sun emits. All stars, including planets, emit various particles collectively known as the “solar wind” because they are released into space like streams.

The solar wind contains radioactivity and other harmful particles that are lethal to humans and other life. If the solar wind were to hit the Earth directly, it would kill humanity and all life on Earth. But the solar wind cannot penetrate the atmosphere because of the Earth’s magnetic field. The magnetosphere, a protective barrier created by the Earth’s magnetic field, extends from Earth into space and deflects and neutralizes the solar wind before it reaches the Earth’s surface.

When the solar wind reaches the magnetosphere, it collides with particles already present in that area. Particles that exist where the Earth’s magnetosphere meets the atmosphere (at the north and south poles) include nitrogen, oxygen and other gases. The solar wind contains charged particles, or molecules that carry an electrical charge. When these charged particles collide with existing atmospheric particles, chemical reactions occur that are visible as the Northern Lights.

To visualize this process, imagine an atom. An atom is made up of a nucleus, a structure made up of positively charged protons and uncharged neutrons. Virtually all atoms have a set of smaller, negatively charged electrons orbiting the nucleus. Atoms usually have an equal number of protons and electrons, which balances them out. What a substance is formed is determined by the number of neutrons, protons and atoms that make it up.

When a charged particle collides with another molecule, it causes an “excitation” that moves electrons away from the nucleus to higher-energy orbitals of the atom. When the atom is no longer in an excited state, the electron returns to its original orbit, which releases a photon, a particle of light. Although this process cannot be observed at the level of individual atoms, it gives rise to large amounts of light when a large number of atoms are collectively excited. When the excitation occurs as a result of the solar wind’s impact on the atmosphere, it causes the process visible as the aurora.

Excitation is a chemical process that is also found in other elements in nature and is used in modern technology, the most well-known example being neon signs. Neon signs work by using electricity to excite neon atoms in a tube, producing light. Aurora Borealis occurs in a similar way, but on a much larger scale and is a natural phenomenon.

Auroral colors also depend on what types of atmospheric particles are excited by the solar wind. The Earth’s atmosphere is made up of 78% nitrogen and 21% oxygen, with the remainder being composed of various trace gases. is configured. As a result, the color of the aurora depends on how far the solar wind has reached in the atmosphere.

The most common aurora colors are red, blue and green. Red and blue auroras are caused by nitrogen, while green auroras are caused by oxygen. Red auroras occur when the solar wind hits the outermost layer of the atmosphere, but due to the relatively thin concentration of gases in the atmosphere at this altitude, red auroras typically occur during periods of very high solar activity. I can only see Green and blue auroras occur at lower altitudes, while blue auroras occur at altitudes relatively close to the Earth’s surface. This is because this particular layer contains less oxygen. Using special instruments, we have also observed ultraviolet and infrared auroras caused by the interaction of the sun with other gases.


a close up of a bridge

Aurora Borealis is a unique natural phenomenon caused by the Earth’s interaction with the Sun. Earth’s magnetic field protects it from harmful solar radiation. Those lucky enough to visit the Arctic Circle can observe this natural process as the Northern Lights. Northern Lights are safe to watch and are some of the most beautiful sights you can see in the world. If you’re interested in seeing the Northern Lights, why not book a Northern Lights viewing tour and see for yourself?

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