The Northern Lights is an aurorae, a spectacular display of colorful shimmering lights in the night sky.
Aurorae occur when electrically charged particles from the Sun that are funneled into the Earth’s magnetic field above the poles collide with atoms in the upper atmosphere; the collision produces the luminous streams of light.
Another name for the Northern Lights is aurora borealis. A similar aurorae occurs above the southern or South Pole; it is called the aurora australis or Southern Lights.
Aurorae can be seen at latitudes greater than 60 degrees North or South. Some displays are static patches of diffuse brightness, but others feature moving lights, lights that seem to wave in the breeze.
Curtains of light can occur when parallel rays line up along the direction of the Earth’s magnetic field. The color of an aurora depends on its height and on which gas in the atmosphere becomes charged. Green is the most common color, but there can also be occasional displays of red, blue, violet, and pink.
The best place to see an aurorae is away from the light pollution of a city or town. Long winter nights are an ideal time to view an aurorae.
The Northern Lights can be seen from Alaska, Canada, northern Scandinavia, and northern Russia. The Southern Lights can be seen from southern South America, Tasmania, and New Zealand’s South Island.