The northern lights, also known as the aurora borealis, are one of the most amazing natural phenomena that can be seen in the night sky. They are a result of the interaction of charged particles from the sun with the Earth’s magnetic field and atmosphere, creating a dazzling display of colors and shapes. But there is more to the northern lights than meets the eye. In this article, we will explore some of the fascinating facts about the northern lights, such as how they are formed, why they have different colors, where and when to see them, what myths and legends they have inspired, and how they affect animals, humans, and technology.
How the Northern Lights are formed and why they have different colors
- The northern lights are caused by solar storms, which are eruptions of plasma and magnetic fields from the sun’s surface. These storms send streams of charged particles, called solar wind, towards the Earth. When the solar wind reaches the Earth, it interacts with the Earth’s magnetic field, which deflects most of the particles away. However, some of the particles manage to enter the Earth’s atmosphere at the poles, where the magnetic field is weaker. There, they collide with atoms and molecules of oxygen and nitrogen, causing them to emit light. This light is what we see as the northern lights.
The color of the northern lights depends on the type and altitude of the atoms and molecules that are excited by the solar wind. Oxygen atoms produce green or yellow-green light at lower altitudes (up to 150 miles), and red light at higher altitudes (above 150 miles). Nitrogen molecules produce blue or purple light at lower altitudes (up to 60 miles), and pink or crimson light at higher altitudes (above 60 miles). Sometimes, these colors can mix and create other shades, such as orange, white, or violet.
The best places and times to see the Northern Lights around the world
The northern lights are visible in the high latitudes of the northern hemisphere, where the Earth’s magnetic field lines converge. The best places to see them are in countries such as Canada, Alaska, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia, Greenland, and Scotland. However, sometimes the northern lights can be seen in lower latitudes as well, depending on the strength of the solar storm and the geomagnetic activity.
The best time to see the northern lights is during winter (from September to March), when the nights are longer and darker. The northern lights are more likely to occur during periods of high solar activity, which follows an 11-year cycle. The next peak of solar activity is expected in 2025. The northern lights can also be affected by the moon phases, weather conditions, and light pollution. To increase your chances of seeing them, you should look for clear skies, dark locations away from city lights, and a new moon or a crescent moon.
The myths and legends inspired by the Northern Lights in different cultures
The northern lights have fascinated and inspired people for centuries. Different cultures have come up with their own myths and legends to explain this mysterious phenomenon. For example:
- In Norse mythology, the northern lights were believed to be the reflections of the shields and armor of the Valkyries, who were female warriors who escorted fallen heroes to Valhalla, the hall of Odin, the king of gods.
- In Inuit mythology, the northern lights were believed to be the spirits of animals and humans who had died. They were also seen as a way of communicating with their ancestors and loved ones.
- In Finnish mythology, the northern lights were believed to be caused by a firefox, who ran across the snow and created sparks with its tail.
- In Chinese mythology, the northern lights were believed to be a dragon breathing fire into the sky.
- In Japanese mythology, the northern lights were believed to be a sign of good luck and happiness.
The effects of the Northern Lights on animals, humans, and technology
The northern lights are not only beautiful to watch, but also have some effects on animals, humans, and technology. Some of these effects are:
- Animals: Some animals may use the northern lights as a navigation tool or a cue for seasonal changes. For example, some birds may migrate according to the geomagnetic activity, some reindeer may avoid grazing under the northern lights due to fear or confusion, and some whales may change their vocalizations in response to the northern lights.
- Humans: Some humans may experience physiological or psychological effects from watching or being exposed to the northern lights. For example, some people may feel more energetic or creative, some people may experience headaches or insomnia, and some people may have spiritual or mystical experiences.
- Technology: Some technology may be disrupted or damaged by the northern lights, especially during strong solar storms. For example, some satellites may malfunction or lose communication, some power grids may overload or blackout, and some radio signals may be distorted or blocked.