GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) — For this week’s episode, let’s dive into the details of one of the most awe-inspiring atmospheric phenomena–the Aurora Borealis.
Now the Aurora is referred to in many different names based on where it glows. In the Northern Hemisphere, these lights are referred to as Aurora Borealis or the Northern Lights, and in the Southern Hemisphere, they are called the Aurora Australis or Southern Lights.
Although these beautiful lights can be seen right here on Earth, they are a direct result of space weather and its solar storms.
Let’s look at the big picture first before we talk about how the Aurora forms. So, there’s the sun, Earth, and Earth’s magnetosphere. Earth’s magnetosphere is made up of an electric field that shields Earth from harmful solar events.
Remember, the sun is a huge ball of gases made up of charged particles, meaning it’s essentially just a huge ball of energy. All this energy is constantly being released by the sun, which flows through space and approaches Earth’s atmosphere. This flow of energy is called the solar wind. The sun is constantly releasing energy but at times, it will spit out a large amount of energy. This is known as a Coronal Mass Ejection or CME for short, and it is a solar storm.
As a solar storm approaches Earth, energy travels along our planet’s magnetic field lines, and some of this energy makes it to Earth’s poles. Once these charged particles interact with gases in our atmosphere, those bright shining lights bleed through the sky in an array of different colors.
Aurora formation is quite complicated, but those beautiful lights are a sight to see! One common misconception about the Northern Lights is that they can occur at any time, but they are only visible during night hours.