Infographics

Earth Planet

đź“· @discover.magazine.

The sun has been acting up this week. For some lucky viewers in the northern hemisphere, all those solar particles streaming toward the Earth have resulted in a spectacular light show — the aurora borealis, or northern lights (aurora activity in the southern hemisphere is known as aurora australis).

How exactly does the solar wind paint the sky in those shimmering colors? It’s not magic – it’s science. Earth’s atmosphere is mostly nitrogen and oxygen, but the exact concentration varies with altitude. Aurora colors do, too. Auroras happen when charged particles from the sun smash into atmospheric gases and energize them. And each gas emits a particular color as a result: Oxygen makes green light at common aurora altitudes, so that’s what we see most often.

They they work a lot like Vegas-style neon lights, actually. Solar particles (the electric current) stream down Earth’s magnetic field lines (the tube) and collide with molecules of nitrogen and oxygen (the gas), exciting them until they glow in various colors. (Credit: Roen Kelly).

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Via: @NorthernLightsStockholm

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