5 Interesting Facts about the Northern Lights


The very sight of the northern lights is exceptionally alluring and they have marvelled mankind for eons. Here are some facts surrounding the northern lights that you would like to know.

The Reason behind the Phenomenon

Both the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) and Southern Lights (Aurora Australis) occur when charged particles cast off from the Sun’s corona hit the earth’s magnetic field 100 miles up, making the air molecules glow green, violet, blue, or red.

Why These Colours? 

The colours that appear on the sky depend on the wavelength of the atom’s photon. The green and red colours are caused by excited Oxygen atoms whereas the excited Nitrogen atoms are responsible for the blue and deep red hues. The mélange of these produce the mesmerizing colourful curtains of light.

They Are Present During the Day Too

Aurora borealis can occur at any time of the day. But night-time is ideal as the Aurora is much dimmer in sunlight and thus not visible. Also it is best to move far away from the lights of towns and cities to maximize your chances of sighting.

The polar lights are best seen in regions close to the magnetic north and south poles.

Other Planets Have Them

Not just our earth the Aurora is visible in other planets too. If a planet has an atmosphere and a magnetic field they certainly should have Auroras.

Images of Auroras in Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune were brought back by probes; Voyagers 1 and 2. The Hubble Space Telescope has captured vivid images of Auroras in Jupiter.

But these auroras are much brighter and powerful than in the earth. 

“Because Jupiter is so large, the electric potentials there could get so strong that they become unstable, turning into waves and random turbulence. It is these phenomena that can accelerate electrons so much that they produce a dazzling display” said Barry Mauk at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland to NewScientist.

Mythology of the Northern Lights

The flowing waves of Auroras have always fascinated mankind and has inspired art, history and culture. It has its influence on various folklores and has given rise to mythological creatures.

Ancient Romans associated the Northern Lights with a new day believing them to be Aurora- the goddess of dawn.

But it was Galileo Galilei who gave the name "aurora borealis" after goddess Aurora in 1619 A.D.

In Norse Mythology, The Northern Lights are depicted as reflections from the shield and armour of the Valkyries. Norse legends also allude that these green ribbons of light served as a portal to Valhalla.

In Southern Europe, the sighting of Auroras is rare. And when they appear, they appear as Red Auroras; due to intense solar activity. So the early residents of France, Italy, England and Scotland considered these sightings to be a bad omen.

Many Chinese legends associated with dragons are linked to the Auroras. In Japanese culture a child conceived underneath the Northern Lights will be blessed with beauty, intellect and fortuity.

For Aboriginal Australians the lights represented blood that was shed by warriors fighting a great battle in the sky, or by spirits of the dead rising to the heavens. They also watched the lights in awe as their gods danced above.

These are just some, but there are dozens of mythological beliefs circling the Auroras in North America and other regions of Auroral manifestations.

Written by - Afra Meera Ahamed

Edited by - Gunika Manchanda