What causes the Northern Lights?

THE Northern Lights are renowned as one of the most spectacular natural phenomenons on Earth.

But how is the sky magically lit up by the spectrum of colours? Here is what we know.

What causes the Northern Lights?

The Northern Lights, also known as aurora borealis, are the result of electrically charged particles from the sun, smashing into gaseous particles in our planet's atmosphere.

This solar flare is often joined by a coronal mass ejection – which is a huge expulsion of plasma from the sun's outer layer.

The massive burst of material from the sun prompts a geomagnetic storm, which brings the aurora to lower latitudes.

The solar storms cause bright, colourful dancing lights in white, green, pink and purple that illuminate the sky and are considered an incredible sight. 

Colour variations occur when different types of gas particles collide with the charged particles.

The most common colour of the aurora is green, which is created when oxygen molecules about 60 miles above the ground react with the particles, whereas nitrogen causes a blue or purple hue.

Why are the Northern Lights only in the north?

The Northern Lights are known to grace the Northern hemisphere – hence their name and the fame of the region.

But the phenomenon also takes place in the Southern hemisphere, as it occurs at the North and South Pole's of the earth, near the Arctic circle.

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Both are affected by the way the Earth's magnetic field behaves, as both poles are both attracted to the planet's metal core.

The light display in the North is known as the aurora borealis and the aurora australis in the South.

Are the Northern Lights bad?

`The Northern Lights do not pose any threat to humans enjoying them from Earth and are regarded as one of the seven natural wonders of the world.

However, the stunning light display is caused by a solar storm –  which is a temporary disturbance of the Earth’s magnetic field, caused by radiation and streams of charged particles from the sun.

This has the ability to disturb the Earth's atmosphere, disrupting radio signals, power grids and causing a shift in the auroras.

It could also disrupt satellite signals, which may experience "orientation irregularities".

The Earth's magnetic field helps to protect us from the more extreme consequences of solar flares.

As well as causing issues for our tech on Earth, they can be deadly for an astronaut if they result in injury or interfere with mission control communications.

Scientists have warned that the sun is capable of producing volleys of solar radiation, which have been dubbed "superflares".

Just one of the superflares could wipe out all technology on Earth – potentially causing trillions of pounds worth of damage and plunging the planet into chaos.

What is the difference between the Northern and Southern Lights?

There is little difference between the different auroras, except their location and that the Northern Lights are often more easily visible.

The Northern Lights occur at the North Pole whereas the Southern Lights appear in the South Pole.

Solar storms cause bright, colourful dancing lights in white, green, pink and purple to illuminate the sky and are considered to be an incredible sight. 

The Lights are visible from Earth when the aurora is brought to lower latitudes as a result of the solar storm.

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