Enlightening Facts About the Aurora Borealis

Facts About the Aurora Borealis That Will Inspire You to Travel North

Facts About Northern Lights That Prove Magic Exists

Northern Lights Prove That Science is Truly Magical

Why Northern Lights Should Inspire You to Go on Top of the World

Read These Northern Lights Facts to Plan a Mystical Trip

The Aurora Borealis has been admired for centuries and still enraptures us today. It’s Earth’s perfectly spectacular light show, just for us that looks like a symphony of magical colors from the heavens. But what exactly about this natural beauty make the northern lights so enchanting? These enlightening facts about the Aurora Borealis won’t take away from the imagination, but inspire wonder for our world and the space beyond.

Check out these tips to learn more about planning a trip for Northern Lights sightings and how to increase your chances for experiencing this show of a lifetime. If you’ve ever wondered what makes it glow these majestic hues and about the science behind it, you’ll be blown away by these answers. Let’s take off for a celestial ride in the Earth’s atmosphere and learn about this phenomenon. How long have we been observing Northern Lights for? Click next for a flash back in time.

 Northern Lights in Recorded History

The absolute earliest documentation of the Northern Lights is largely assumed to be inspiration the Cro-Magnon people drew from the night sky over 30,000 years ago. Caves in southern France still display rock paintings of what the people saw. Civilizations have been observing astronomy since the age of antiquity by using surprisingly advanced mathematics for the time, most notably in Arabic and Asian cultures.

The earliest recorded observations discovered in regards to the Northern Lights date back from the Babylonian clay tablet in 567 BCE. King Nebuchadnezzar II had astronomers who worked for him specifically record Northern Lights activity from March 12-13, and they documented the sky having an “unusual red glow”. The Chinese established a list of auroral observations starting in the year 687 BCE, and referred to the bright lights as animals, such as dragons. What else did people think Northern Lights were in the past? Click next for some more interesting explanations.

Ancient Stories about Northern Lights

Just as the majestic star spills of the Milky Way and constellations encouraged great minds to see familiar shapes and create folklore that influenced modern society, there were stories behind the northern lights. Some Inuit tribes connected the lights to spirit animals that were important for hunting. They were inspired by seals, salmon, deer and beluga whales that came alive in the sky. Other North American tribes saw a distinct strip of bright lights, which they interpreted as a path in the heavens to guide souls.

They imagined these colorful lights were torches, and the Igluik people also had legends of such lights. They believed it was the source of a powerful spirit that often assisted shamans. In Early Modern Europe, any lights that flashed across the horizon were interpreted as omens, with red being bad luck and green for good fortune. If the Aurora Borealis sparked your curiosity, click next to learn about its name origins.

Aurora Borealis Origin

Since Early Modern Europe, we still look back on how the work of Galileo Galilei revolutionized our understanding of astronomy. He may be most famous for challenging the church and monarchy’s geocentric view of the solar system, and remained under house arrest for the rest of his life. He was so interested in the sun that he even risked going blind from staring at it in the telescope to better understand sunspots.

Galileo’s observations also inspired his term for the northern lights, which he called Aurora Borealis.  Aurora is not only a beautiful name, but she was the goddess of dawn in Roman mythology. Borealis is a Greek word, which means northern winds. Galileo already had theories about what was causing the Auroras, but it was popularly considered to be the first light of dawn. To learn more about what Galileo and other early astronomers thought about the Aurora Borealis, click next for their surprisingly accurate guesses. 

Aurora Borealis Early Guesses

Great philosophers, scientists and inventors have thrown their two cents in for what they thought the Aurora Borealis was. Aristotle described the Northern Lights as “tears of the night sky behind which one sees flames”. Like many Greek thinkers, Aristotle believed the that these rips in the sky revealed flames licking through from space to our sky. Galileo thought the lights were sunlight shining through from a reflection in the atmosphere.

Others like Descartes believed there was fire at the edge of the world that shone a glow towards the center of the earth. Benjamin Franklin acknowledged the mystery of the Aurora Borealis and theorized that electrical charges were highly concentrated in the polar regions that intensified during snow and moisture. But how did these influential minds go from these interesting theories to learning the truth about the Aurora Borealis? What are the Northern Lights? Click next for the illuminating definition.

What are Northern Lights?

Northern Lights are indeed natural light that is visible in the night sky. The light is emitted by charged particles from solar wind that passes through the Earth’s polarities. This is why the lights are best seen from high latitudes, but the farther North or South you are doesn’t guarantee admission to a spectacular light show. The Northern Lights are notoriously unpredictable, and as Benjamin Franklin predicted, this is partially due to the weather.

In the Arctic Circle, weather patterns can change drastically, which may affect the turnout of Northern Lights at any given time. The lights occur independently from the sun, and may be present during daylight, although we’d never be able to see it. If particles come into the Earth’s atmosphere from solar activity, what exactly causes it? Halley’s comet discoverer Edmond Halley published a theory describing magnetic atoms moving across Earth during the Northern Lights. Click next to bring more light to some celestial facts.

What Causes the Northern Lights

The Earth’s magnetic poles create vertical lines in the magnetic field, which extends tens of thousands of miles into space. Charged particles from the sun shoot into our magnetic field, as well as elemental molecules and atoms from the outer layers of the atmosphere. Once these charged particles get pulled into our magnetic field, they concentrate into light emissions at the polar caps, where the magnetic pull is the strongest.

Since these lights fill up the sky from the horizon to the zenith, we are left with the impression that this majestic phenomenon is as close as a fireworks show. What we are actually seeing are lights nearly 100 km (60 mi) from the Earth’s surface, with the most distant lights visible shining over 650 km (400 mi) away. Because there are other planets with even stronger magnetic fields than Earth, there is evidence of this phenomenon on other planets. If you want to learn more galactic facts, click next for lights out of this world.

Aurora Borealis in the Cosmos

From what we’ve observed about the Aurora Borealis from Earth, we’ve assumed that this occurrence is only possible because of our magnetic field. Our neighboring planet Venus is comparable to the size of Earth, but it barely has an atmosphere because of how close it orbits the sun. Venus also has a weak magnetic field, but lights are still somehow possible, and flashes observed from the planet are comparable to how comet tails blaze across the sky.

The gas giant Jupiter may be distant from the sun, but produces powerful Auroras that emit fantastic x-ray activity during violent solar wind storms from the sun, known as coronal mass ejections (CMEs). If a CME is to reach Jupiter, it triggers x-rays that are much bigger than the Earth’s entire surface. Jupiter already dwarfs Earth in size, but its powerful magnetic field is ten times stronger than Earth’s. If you are intrigued by solar activity, click next for more on solar storms.

Solar Activity and Lights

In our solar system, all planets may be affected by the activity in the sun’s upper hemisphere, which is where the solar winds extend into the planet’s orbits, and potentially interacting with their geomagnetic fields. Sunspots were observed by Galileo with a telescope and the naked eye, and we’ve since learned never to directly look at the sun. These areas on the sun are the hub of solar activity, which sends all the particles into the solar wind that creates the Auroras across the atmosphere.

Sunspots have peak activity, which goes through an 11-year cycle. During the sunspots peak cycles are when we’re most likely to observe strong Aurora activity. The current sunspot cycle peaked in 2013, but was recorded as the weakest solar maximum in a century. Waiting for peak solar activity is the most scientifically accurate way to prepare a trip to witness beautiful Auroras, but click next to see how else you can improve your chances.

Best Aurora Borealis Locations

What makes the Aurora Borealis so mystic is its unpredictability. Each occurrence is entirely unique, with no two exactly alike. Even if you travel to a key location during the sunspot peak, there is no guarantee for one of these spectacular sightings. The Aurora Borealis is very random and factors like time of year, weather and light pollution also play a role.

Two reliable locations are Alaska or Greenland, since Northern Lights are visible almost every night of the year and may even produce sightings on winter afternoons, since it’s darker longer. Favorite tourist picks around the Arctic Circle are the Yellowknife region of Canada and Tromso, Norway, since the conditions for sightings are optimal nearby towns have an enchanting reputation that in turn benefit from all the tourism. If you need breathtaking stories for inspiration, click next and start planning your trip.

Northern Lights in the Arctic Circle

It’s one thing to zone in on key locations for epic Northern Lights, but these Arctic tourist havens will make you want to bundle up and trek out for an experience of a lifetime. Get a glimpse of views that are nearly on top of the world in these idyllic towns that come alive with the spirited lights at night. Hotel Kangerlussuaq in northern Greenland has all the amenities to stay toasty after a night gazing at the green hues of the Aurora Borealis.

Admire the rural landscape by day and take a walk after nightfall on a stretch of road that leads right to the Ice Cap. This is a prime spot to view some magical lights that will captivate your spirit. Kangerlussuaq proudly claims 300 clear nights a year for perfect opportunities to see the Aurora Borealis. If you want to enjoy a series of Northern Lights on a single trip, click next and start cruising.

Northern Lights Cruise

Take an unexpected trip to Iceland and smaller islands you thought you’d never visit. These quaint areas have truly breathtaking views that will leave you feeling one with nature on the sea. Reykjavik is the hub of Icelandic entertainment that you can’t miss, and may even yield a flash or two of the Aurora Borealis. While this is unlikely due to a bit of light pollution that comes with city life, cruising along the northern coast will surely deliver majestic Aurora Borealis sightings.

Enjoy the experience of the Arctic along the North Atlantic as you stop in the Faroe and Shetland Islands before finishing up with some sightseeing on the British Isles. While Northern Lights enthusiasts rarely think of it, northern Scotland also offers surprisingly beautiful Northern Lights sightings and of course, outstanding hospitality. For an unforgettable ritual that could change lives, click next to reveal Japanese tourist practices under the stars.

Japanese Tourist Ritual

With all the stylish lodgings Scandinavia has to offer that allow visitors to gaze up at the night sky through large windows, winter has become a secondary high season. The Japanese tourists are partially to thank for that, but many of them come with bigger plans than a spontaneous Nordic holiday. In Japanese ritual, many couples still honor the tradition of conceiving babies under the Northern Lights.

As told in myths, couples who conceive under the mystical Aurora Borealis will have beautiful, happy children. Some take it more seriously and are set on high hopes of having a baby boy. It may be more than observing tradition for a romantic vacation and have an excuse to keep on another warm in the freezing Nordic winter, as the Japanese birth rate is in decline. If you want more practical tips, click next for tourist advice.

Illuminating Northern Lights Sightings

While tourist options may seem like a pitfall due to high lodging costs in expensive Scandinavian countries, it might be worth it after all to go on a guided tour. Not only are the companies local experts in Northern Lights sightings, but in the region they also know the best locations that increase the likelihood of experiencing the lights in an already high activity area. You are more likely to avoid overcast and have a solid plan B before the end of your trip if the weather were not to cooperate.

Especially for smaller tour guides, you are likely to benefit from hospitality and receive discounted invitations for another trip, in case your first trip didn’t deliver an Aurora Borealis. Each day can be accurately predicted as well, since NASA and other space agencies monitor solar activity and send public alerts when Aurora likelihood increases. If you’re interested in what Auroras look like from space, click next for a surprising sight.

Northern Lights from the Space Station

Despite some poorly researched conspiracy theories still floating around today, for hundreds of years, people have largely accepted that the Earth is spherical and orbits the sun. Although our planet and solar system are sufficiently researched, the average person still has trouble grasping our exact location, and how perspective may change depending on where you travel on the globe. The night sky and star constellations will appear differently depending on your hemisphere and proximity to the Equator.

These factors also influence the likelihood of seeing Northern Lights. But what do they look like from space? The lights appear hundreds of miles above the Earth’s atmosphere, so for how mind-blowing that seems, it’s actually the same altitude as the International Space Station. Residents in space view the lights from the side, so it looks like the Earth’s surface is glowing. If you’re wondering if Southern Lights look any different, click next to reveal the Pacific hues.

The Lesser Known Southern Lights

There is just as much activity at the South Pole as there is at the North Pole, but the Southern Lights are rarer in terms of human observation. Since there are more inhabitants and cities near the Arctic Circle, we have become expert observers of the Northern Lights. Because of the massive size of Antarctica and the hostile climate, there are no permanent residents on the frozen continent, and the closest proximity to the lights would be to set sail in the Pacific Ocean.

Also called Aurora Australis, the lights can be seen from Tasmania year round, although its unpredictability makes it hard to chase. Another thing to consider is what you might see with the naked eye. Not only will the lights be quite faint and distant depending on location, light pollution and weather, but it’s fairly common for the lights to look like a white-grey flickering. To find out more about what these colors mean, click next for the big reveal.

Science Behind Northern Lights Colors

The fantastic lights remind us of celestial gods from the heavens because of how spontaneous and rare it can be to experience them first hand. This natural phenomenon is the exact opposite of a fireworks show – you can’t order your favorite colors. Green is the most common color because of the oxygen emitted, which also causes yellow and red hues. Nitrogen emissions produce a blue light, and any mixture with oxygen is going to create a fantastic blend of purple, pink and white colors.

Researchers can use these color patterns to determine the emissions rate as they track the Northern Lights. The Aurora Borealis looks the most breathtaking on high-tech cameras because UV rays are also produced, which can’t be seen with the naked eye. You also may need more gadgets to be able to hear faint messages from the Auroras as well. To learn about cryptic sounds, click next for some unexpected facts.

What Does the Aurora Borealis Say?

For hundreds of years, faint sounds that accompany the Auroras has been noted on numerous occasions. While it’s extremely rare to detect anything, the Auroras actually do produce natural noise. It’s very unlikely to hear anything that can’t be attributed to the natural environment, but the farther North you are, the better chance you may have. The best chance of catching anything is during a sunspot peak on a perfectly calm night with no wind or weather disturbances.

The lucky few that have captured any of these sounds report to hear faint claps, crackling and static. This apparently defies logic in the science community, as experts insist that it’d be impossible to hear anything solely caused by the Auroras. The upper atmosphere where the activity occurs is too thin to carry soundwaves, and if anything is happening, it’d take at least 5 minutes for the sound to travel to the Earth’s surface. If you want an outstanding experience you can rely on, click next for heavenly details.

Fox Fires in Finland

Lapland is the northernmost region in Finland that boasts Aurora Borealis sightings out of 200 nights of the year. Locally, the Northern Lights are called “revontulet”, which means “fox fires”. According to tradition, the lights were created by an Arctic fox running through the sky, and as it swished its bushy tail, it left a trail of swirling lights in a blend of colors behind.

Viewing the fox fires is done in comfort and style, with the option of renting glass igloos, so guests can lay in bed and enjoy a view of the sky. This is a great way to stay warm, but if you want to see more than a sliver of the sky, it’s best to plan out a strategy. During peak hours of the night, set your clock for every hour or so for a reminder to venture out and catch some fox fires if you’re lucky. Click next for record breaking Northern Lights.

Solar Storms in 2017

Although solar activity in sunspots had peaked in 2013, we are still experiencing solar storms. We are now entering a solar minimum, since a bigger sunspot is rotating away from the Earth and won’t be seen again until the sun completes another rotation. The biggest solar flare in over a decade came early September in 2017. Not only did this cause epic Northern Lights, but it also had other effects on the planet and our daily lives. There were high-frequency radio blackouts that lasted for about an hour.

Solar flares produce powerful blasts of energy, and the ones from this year were off the charts and can contain as much energy as a billion hydrogen bombs. Solar flares also trigger geomagnetic storms in our own atmosphere, which disrupts other technology such as satellites and GPS navigation. The Auroras may have been brilliantly breathtaking, but the ecosystem was affected as well, with researchers seeing a correlation between solar activity and stranded beluga whales.