By Katrina Bergey
Auroras are natural, vibrant lights that appear in the sky. Recently, you were able to view the northern lights in Minnesota; therefore, I found it fitting to give a little background of the lights. There are northern lights known as Aurora Borealis and southern lights known as Aurora Australis that many people find captivating. These lights have an extensive history that dates back thousands of years. Auroras form from a natural scientific procedure. The auroras are found in the North or South Pole along with several other areas on Earth and on other planets.
The northern and southern auroras have been around for thousands of years. The first aurora was seen in China around 2600 B.C. It was first discovered by Fu Poa, the mother of the Yellow Empire, who saw strong lightning that lit up the whole sky. In 1570 A.D., the first drawing of an aurora was found in a cave. The drawing depicted candles burning above the clouds. It was not until 1619 that Galileo Galilei coined the term “Aurora Borealis,” which is named after the Roman goddess of dawn.
The aurora findings led scientists to start to study the cause of these beautiful displays. Auroras are formed when highly charged electrons from solar winds come in contact with the atmosphere’s elements. Once the solar winds reach the Earth, they follow the magnetic lines of the Earth causing the lines in auroras. There is a specific science behind the color of each aurora that has to do with the elements they come in contact with. When the charged electrons and protons meet the Earth’s atmosphere, they gain energy and once the energy is released the colors are emitted. The major colors are green, red, purple, and blue with green being the most common. Blue and violet form from the element nitrogen. Blue can form up to 60 miles and violet forms from above 60 miles in altitude. Red and green auroras are formed from oxygen. The green is formed up to 150 miles and red above 150 miles in altitude.
The northern and southern lights range in altitudes as well as locations across the globe and space. Auroras are more likely to be seen closer to the northern or southern poles or during solar sunspots which occur every 11 years. The strong, vibrant auroras can be seen as far away as Mexico or Cuba. Auroras are seen even farther away in space. At night, the auroras are bright enough to be seen from other planets. Satellites in space have gone right through the lights and taken many pictures of them. Planets, other than Earth, have auroras of their own. The Voyagers 1 and 2 have brought back pictures of auroras on Neptune, Uranus, Jupiter, and Saturn. These lights are much bigger and brighter than on Earth because of their different magnetic fields. Uranus has such an interesting magnetic field that its auroras resemble bright spots rather than rings.
Auroras are natural phenomena that have intrigued people for thousands of years. People have intensely studied them to try and explain how they occur. These bright, colorful designs are important for several things such as science, history, and pure enjoyment.
Katrina Bergey is a student at Fillmore Central High School. She is one of eight area students participating in the Journal Writing Project, now in its 20th year.