Drawing the Northern Lights

(This part makes an excellent interdisciplinary project with school art programs.) As a memento of your visit to northern lights we have all the tools you need to make a chalk sketch of your impression of the aurora borealis. I’ll give you black paper for the night sky.  What chalk colors should we use?  VISUAL […]


Whether you see the northern lights depends on many factors. Being far to the north makes northern lights viewing more likely, except in the summer. But if the Sun becomes very active, the solar wind can be strong enough to cause northern lights to occur surprisingly farther south than normal—visible from southern United States and […]

Spacecraft Studies of Aurorae

The Polar spacecraft was launched in February of 1996 to obtain data from both high- and low-altitude perspectives of the active polar regions of space near Earth. In its polar orbit around the Earth, the satellite also passes nearer the equator through the Earth’s trapped radiation, the Van Allen belts. VISUAL 25 (still): POLAR Spacecraft […]

Scientific Explanation of the Aurorae

Our modern scientific explanation for the aurorae start with particles coming from the Sun, encountering the Earth’s magnetic field, and then entering the Earth’s atmosphere. Let’s take those three parts one at a time.

Explanation of the Aurorae: The Sun

VISUAL 9 (still): Sun A key player in the origin of these lights in our Earth’s sky is the Sun, a huge ball of gas converting enormous amounts of energy in its core by a nuclear reaction. It is like millions of nuclear bombs going off every second. Only a very small portion of this […]

Explanation of the Aurorae: The Earth’s Magnetic Field

The solar wind particles carry magnetism along with the solar wind. When the solar wind reaches the Earth the wind particles do not simply bump into our planet. The Earth is surrounded by a magnetic field. It is like a bar magnet with the poles of the magnet near the Earth’s north and south poles. […]

Explanation of the Aurorae: In the Atmosphere

VISUAL 19 (still): Satellite View of Aurorae [Fade on an image of aurora as seen from space. In collisions between the electrons which come from the Earth’s magnetotail and the atoms in the atmosphere, the electrons give their energy to these atoms and make them glow.] This light, as seen by a satellite, hangs like […]

Historical Interpretationsof the Northern Lights

VISUAL 5 (still): Old Drawings with Goats [Fade on image of Aristotle’s interpretation of the aurora.] Aristotle: “Exhalations of fiery vapors that form various chasms.”The writings of Aristotle, who lived over two thousand years ago in Greece, are the earliest known records of a sound scientific attempt to discuss the northern lights, although he described […]

What the Northern Lights Look Like

VISUAL 3 (movie): Aurora Drawing—optional Along with the Auroral Storm Narration video (below), play the video that will be used later for the aurora drawing activity. Use playback controls—pause, play, fade off/on, turn volume off/on. [Fade off Aurora Drawing] Those who stay up late during the dark time of year above the arctic circle may […]

Light on the World

In order to see why the midnight Sun shines in Tromsø and not in [YOUR CITY], we will each need to look at a globe. The globe is a model of the Earth and this light can serve as the Sun.  DIGITAL EFFECT: Earth GlobesFade the Sun and atmosphere off. Darken the sky for the […]