Northern Lights: Facts About the Aurora Borealis

Here are some facts about the Northern Lights.

  • The Northern Lights, also known as the Aurora Borealis, are dramatic and colourful light formations which can be seen in the skies in the northern hemisphere.
  • Pink and green are the most common colours of the lights, although they can also be seen in red, yellow, violet and blue. They can appear as sheets or arcs of light, or rays.

  • The Northen Lights are caused by electrically charged particles from the sun colliding with gaseous particles in the earth’s atmosphere.

Northern Lights

  • The lights can be seen anywhere, although they are more visible further north, especially in Canada, Alaska and Scandinavia. They can occur at any time of the year.
  • Most displays of Northern Lights are between a height of 80 and 120 km.
  • The lights have been seen since ancient times and one of the earliest documentations is on a stone tablet from 568 BC. It was made by the royal astronomer to King Nebuchadnezzar II.
  • Many primitive people were fearful of the lights, seeing them as a premonition of disaster. Some Eskimo tribes believed that children would be snatched away by the lights, or that the lights could cut a person’s head off.
  • Astronauts on the International Space Station have the unique experience of seeing the lights from the side. Astronauts also experience more radiation while the lights are occurring.
  • One of the most spectacular displays was in September 1859 when thousands of km of telegraph lines were disrupted.
  • The Northern Lights in March, 1989 caused a 12 hour power failure in Quebec, Canada.
  • The lights could be seen during the Battle of Fredericksburg in 1862, during the American Civil War. The Confederate Army saw that as a good sign as the lights were seldom seen that far south.