Aurora, Northern Lights

The Enchanting Beauty of Aurora Borealis: A Phenomenon to Behold

Aurora Borealis, commonly known as the Northern Lights, is a mesmerizing natural phenomenon that captivates the hearts of those lucky enough to witness it. This awe-inspiring display of colorful lights illuminates the night sky, leaving observers in a state of wonder. While the existing content provides a brief overview of the Northern Lights, let's delve deeper into this magical occurrence and explore some lesser-known aspects.

The Dance of Colors in the Night Sky

The Northern Lights manifest as tall curtains of vibrant colors silently shifting and altering across the celestial canvas. These curtains primarily exhibit shades of green, which have a base altitude of approximately 90-100 km (56-62 miles). However, the red hues extend even higher into the atmosphere. The interplay of these colors creates a breathtaking spectacle that leaves observers spellbound.

Geographical Locations and Optimal Viewing Conditions

The occurrence of aurorae is closely tied to the magnetic poles, resulting in two ovals encircling them. Countries such as Canada, northern USA, Scandinavia, and northern Russia are particularly well-positioned for witnessing this celestial spectacle. These regions provide optimal viewing conditions due to their proximity to the magnetic poles.

To experience the Northern Lights at their finest, it is recommended to plan your viewing during a moonless night, far away from any light pollution. The ideal viewing time generally spans from 2-3 hours around midnight, although they can be visible from dusk to dawn. High latitudes offer the most frequent and spectacular displays.

Expanding Ovals and Surprising Sightings

During periods of high auroral activity, the ovals surrounding the magnetic poles expand, allowing displays to be visible further south than usual. As a result, countries like England, Germany, and mid-latitude regions in the United States occasionally get to witness the captivating dance of the Northern Lights. In rare instances, these awe-inspiring lights have even been spotted in tropical regions, adding an extra touch of enchantment to the phenomenon.

Solar Storms and the Solar Activity Cycle

Aurorae are produced by solar storms, which occur most frequently during the peak of the 11-year solar activity cycle. The last maximum activity occurred in 2000/2001, and although we are currently in a period of minimum solar activity (as of 2007), there are still plenty of opportunities to witness these mesmerizing displays.

It is worth noting that solar disturbances take approximately 2-3 days to reach Earth, allowing for some predictability in aurora sightings. Resources such as daily oval plots and aurora predictions can assist in planning your aurora-chasing adventures.

The Elusive Magnetic Poles and Their Migration

The auroral ovals, while approximately centered on each magnetic pole, are actually furthest from the poles on Earth's midnight side. Locating the exact position of the northern magnetic pole has been an ongoing quest throughout history. In fact, it played a significant role in the search for the elusive Northwest Passage. At present (as of 2007), the northern magnetic pole is located northwest of Sverdrup Island at approximately 83°N 115°W. However, it is noteworthy that the magnetic pole is rapidly migrating towards Siberia at a rate of around 40 km per year. This migration could potentially impact North American aurora observers by the year 2060.

In conclusion, the Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights, is a truly extraordinary natural phenomenon that showcases the beauty and grandeur of our planet and the universe beyond. The captivating dance of colors across the night sky leaves spectators in awe and wonder. Whether you plan a trip to the high latitudes or keep an eye out for unexpected sightings further south, experiencing the Northern Lights is an unforgettable adventure that connects us to the vastness of the cosmos. So, keep your eyes on the sky and embrace the magic of the Aurora Borealis.

Aurora Borealis, Ørsta, Norway December 27, 2005 imaged by Geir Øye (site, aurora gallery). Tall curtains of colour silently shift and alter across the night sky. Their green base is somet 90-100 km (56-62 mile) high, the red extends much higher. Image ©Geir Øye, shown with permission.

Aurorae occur in two ovals encircling the magnetic poles. Canada, northern USA, Scandinavia and northern Russia are well positioned for aurorae. The ovals expand during high auroral activity and mid latitude Europe and the US then see displays.

The aurora or 'Northern lights' is one of Nature’s greatest spectacles. A display might start as a few upward shafts of light almost imperceptible against a darkening twilight sky. The shafts then take form, they brighten into greens topped with reds, they join to make wide curtains, move and flicker, they disappear then quickly return again. The silence as they change is somehow more eerie than the lights themselves. Sometimes the display is confined to the north, in others reds and orange cover the whole sky.

Aurorae are best seen for 2-3 hours around midnight although they can be visible from dusk to dawn. A moonless night well away from light pollution is ideal. They are most frequent and at their finest at high latitudes. Aurorae are concentrated in two giant ovals around. Earth’s magnetic poles. The northern pole is currently.. in the high Canadian Actic and Canada, Northern USA and Northern Europe are well placed for bright displays.

The auroral ovals enlarge during high activity and displays are then visible further south in England, Germany and mid latitude USA. Very exceptionally, aurorae are even seen in the tropics.

Aurorae are produced by solar storms and are most frequent during the maxima of the 11 year solar activity cycle. The last maximum was 2000/1 and although we are now (2007) near minimum activity there are still plenty of aurorae to see.

Solar disturbances take 2-3 days to reach Earth and aurorae are therefore to some extent predictable. For daily oval plots and aurora predictions see links.

. The ovals are only approximately centered on each magnetic pole. They are furthest from it on Earth's midnight side.

.. Locating the exact position of the northern magnetic pole and characterising the Earth's magnetic field was one of the subsidiary quests during the long search for a North West Passage. The magnetic pole was then near Boothia Peninsula. It is presently (2007) northwest of Sverdrup Island at ~83°N 115°W . After a period of stability is is migrating quickly, ~ 40 km per year, towards Siberia. Bad news for 2060 North American aurora observers.

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Reference Atmospheric Optics

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