EarthEarth ScienceEnvironmentScience

Where do the Northern Lights Come From?

What Causes the Northern Lights?

Have you ever imagined a sky with beautiful specks of colors? Well, if you have heard of auroras, then it’s common that you are admiring to see them, isn’t it? From kids to adults, all become fascinated to visualize such a celestial view on a dark sky. But, have you wondered where the northern lights come from?


If we research further and go deeper into ancient mythology, we can understand the thoughts of ancient people on auroras. Previously people had believed that God made auroras in the form of a bridge of fire.

Further, some local people thought of auroras as the result of their ancestors’ dance in the form of sparkling lights.

In 1619 A.D. Galileo Galilei, with the belief that these lights are the reflection of sunlight on earth’s atmosphere, given the term Aurora Borealis for northern lights.

Aurora is the name of the morning’s goddess in Roman, and Borealis means south wind in the Greek language.

Still, there is science behind every natural phenomenon and thus for northern lights or aurora borealis. Now you might have questions, how do the northern lights happen according to science?

Hence, for clarifying all of your queries regarding such an amazing event, we have created a comprehensive article. So, let’s have a closer view.

How Do the Northern Lights Happen?

What Causes the Northern Lights?

Northern lights or southern lights, or we can say auroras, are formed in similar ways according to several studies. The process of formation of auroras is not that simple as it seems. But they involve complex theories of physics.

These all start from a star we can see every day, i.e., the sun. Yes, the sun is the leading cause of the formation of northern or southern lights. Now, you might ask how? Let me explain to you from the beginning.

Sunspots are some darker regions that usually exist as pairs and have diameters comparable to earth, formed by a decrease in temperature in some areas compared to other portions of the sun’s surface. At these spots, due to low temperatures, some charged particles escaped to space.

When these charged particles rush, they are known as solar wind and cause solar storms. These particles then come in contact with the earth’s magnetic field.

Yes, our earth is a vast magnet. This is due to the presence of iron-nickel at the center that is the core of this celestial body. As you can see, two different sides of a magnet; the earth also has two poles like north and south.

Where do the Northern Lights Are Formed?

Northern lights or aurora borealis are formed in the thermosphere or exosphere of the atmosphere at an altitude of 60 to higher than 250 miles.

We can even say that auroras can occur only in the upper atmosphere, and northern lights are formed in the north pole of the earth.

Most of the enormous bodies, harmful radiations, and also some electric particles from the sun get destroyed by the presence of a magnetic field around the earth.

However, poles are not the same as throughout the structure of the earth. That is how charged particles from the sun’s atmosphere collide with the upper atmosphere of the planet.

Now you might have a question why auroras are formed only at the poles? Then the simple answer is due to the strong magnetic field of the earth. Yes, high magnetic strength all around the planet repels about 98% of the particles from solar storms.

After such interaction, those particles deliver some amount of energy to the atoms present in our atmosphere. Now those atoms excite and become highly unstable by taking excessive energy and try to reach their ground level by emitting that extra energy as soon as possible.

According to the law of conservation of energy, “energy can neither be created nor be destroyed; it can only be transferred from one form to another.”

In a similar way, excessive energy cannot be disappeared or destroyed, but, soon, converted into another form of energy, i.e., light energy.

Due to these emissions of energy as fluorescent, auroras are formed.

Which Type of Lights Auroras Have?

According to several photographs taken and captured views of aurora borealis, these are the curtains or arcs or even spirals of colorful lights.

When Is the Auroras Borealis Is Green or Any Particular Color?

Now another question makes us think deeply about the different colors these lights show. Well, based on several space studies, it is clear that aurora borealis show different shades of stunning colors like purple, blue, green, yellow, orange, red, and even white.

The primary reason for the formation of such hues is due to the gaseous environment of the earth. As our atmosphere consists of different types of gases, it’s expected that interaction with separate atoms and molecules will form different colors.

Our atmosphere is 99% oxygen and nitrogen and a very trace amount of other gaseous atoms are also present. Thus, when charged particles interact with oxygen, they form green lights– the most frequently seen colors in northern lights.

Oxygen atoms at a high level produce red light. Green lights are displayed as most intense and most of the time due to the easy interaction of those solar particles with oxygen molecules.

Nitrogen molecules, due to the presence of a triple bond, are difficult to degrade, and hence, blue or purples are seen rarely. Further, atoms of nitrogen are responsible for the formation of blue light, while molecular interaction causes purple or violet lights to form.

Where Can You See the Northern Lights?

The regions with low light pollution and latitude above 55º are considered ideal places to see such an ethereal display. You can find your magnetic latitude through some online tools.

Auroras are usually seen in high latitudes, but due to a geomagnetic storm, you can see the expanded hue of light at lower latitudes as well.

When is the Best Time to See the Northern Lights?

Dark nights in polar latitudes are a decent time when auroras occur.

Besides, Auroras season extends from March to September and is much stronger near the vernal equinox and fall equinox. These times of the year experience a strong magnetic geometry around the earth.

In the polar region, this season is spring, and therefore, we can define spring as the season of auroras.

Which Country Is Best to See Aurora Borealis?

If you and your family members are planning to see the charming view of aurora borealis, then have a look at these countries.

The best countries to enjoy the beauty of such natural phenomena are Alaska, Norway, Finland, Greenland, Iceland, Sweden, and even Canada. There are lots of other destinations where you can visualize aurora borealis or northern lights. But the above-said countries are the ideal places for a great adventure.


We can further imagine auroras in other massive planets like Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. These are the planets with a thicker gaseous atmosphere and a vast magnetic field.

Other planets like Mars and Venus also experience auroras but in a tiny contrast and differ hugely from earth’s auroras in characteristics.

Like northern lights, we can also experience the view of southern lights at the south poles of the earth. However, there are very few destinations where you can visualize southern lights and not be so familiar among people.

Besides these beautiful colors, some local people claim that they have heard auroras. This is still a mystery, and several studies are still going on to find more surprising facts about this.

Lastly, update us “What do you think about auroras?” by commenting down below! We hope you have enjoyed our article today. For more such exciting and deep science topics, follow us!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button