the Northern Lights of Canada
The Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights,
look like huge, shimmering, gossamer curtains blowing in the
wind. There is a magical quality to the Aurora Borealis that
is unforgettable and yet indescribable to those who have not seen
them. The colours of the Aurora Borealis can be primarily an iridescent whitish green with red to purple highlights, or spectacular
reds and oranges with large patches of green. The Aurora Borealis
can be in patches, columns, waves or spectacular combinations
of all of these. Every time you watch the Northern Lights they
invoke memories of the last time you watched and yet they are
always different and new at the same time.
You can see the Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights better
in Canada than anywhere else in the world because the Aurora
Borealis is centred around the Magnetic North Pole which comes
up through Baffin Island in Canada's Arctic.
When the Aurora Borealis is at it's strongest, you can
see Northern Lights on clear moonless nights almost anywhere
in Canada away from the city lights. As you go further north
the likelihood of seeing Northern Lights becomes greater, and
the Aurora Borealis you see becomes brighter and more spectacular.
For as long as our species has been on the earth people
have looked at the Aurora Borealis with awe and fear. People
have worshipped the Northern Lights as sprits or gods, people
have feared the northern lights and made songs about the Aurora
Borealis. But, what are the Northern Lights? How are the Northern
Lights created or made.
The Aurora Borealis, and the Aurora Australis around the
South Magnetic Pole, are still not fully understood. The Aurora
Borealis is not created by sunlight reflecting off of the polar
ice at the north and south pole as people once believed. We now
know that the earth's auroras are caused by an interaction between
our earth's magnetic field and radiation from our sun. Besides
light and heat, our sun constantly emits streams of charged particles
we know as Solar Wind. The protons and electrons in the Solar
Wind interact with our Earth's magnetic field. As these charged
particles come into our atmosphere they smash into the atmospheric
gases, such as nitrogen and oxygen, in our upper atmosphere.
When the charged particles in the solar wind collide with the
atoms of nitrogen and oxygen, they transfer a lot of energy to
the atoms which enter a more excited state. As the atoms collapse
back into a normal state they shed energy which is given off
as light of various colours and intensities, which are the Northern
Lights, or Aurora Borealis that we see.
The different colours in the Aurora Borealis depends on
the altitude and the type of gas the solar wind plasma hits.
Oxygen in the lower atmosphere produces the whitish green colours
in the Northern Lights. Oxygen in the higher altitudes glows
red. Hydrogen and Helium in the highest ranges of the atmosphere make the blue and purple highlights of the Aurora Borealis.
The scientific explanations help us to understand the source
of the Aurora Borealis, but when you actually see the Aurora
Borealis you have no doubt that there is magic in nature and
the Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis are one of the most spectacular results of nature's magic.