The aurora borealis, also known as the Northern Lights, is a natural phenomenon featuring spectacularly colored displays over the Earth. The aurora borealis has intrigued mankind since ancient times and people travel thousands of miles to witness the stunning light shows in the Earth’s atmosphere. Let’s take a look at the interesting history surrounding its, as well as some of the scientific aspects.
How Aurora Borealis Got Its Name
In 1621, Pierre Gassendi, a French scientist, observed beautiful lights in the north and named it after the Roman goddess of dawn, Aurora. Gassendi added the word “borealis” for the Roman god of the north wind, Boreas. In the southern hemisphere, the lights are referred to as aurora australis, which means “southern”. The image below is a breathtaking shot of aurora australis photographed from the Space Shuttle in May 1991.
What Causes The Aurora Borealis?
The dazzling aurora borealis light show may be visually calming and soothing, but the process that creates it is violent and rapid. The light show is a result of several millions of electrically charged particles in the solar wind that wash over Earth and smash into upper atmospheric gasses. The energy from each of these collisions is released in the form of photons, which are light particles. This causes the particles to glow and the result is the gorgeous light show you get to witness. The photograph below shows an amazing aurora borealis in Finland.
Best Time & Places To Witness The Light Show
If you want to witness the phenomenal aurora borealis light show, you will need to know the best time and places to witness the spectacle. The lights are most common during the autumn months of September and October and then again in March and April because of the Earth’s tilt in relation to the Sun. Alaska is easily the best place in the United States to witness the breathtaking light show. Outside the US, Canada, Denmark, Scotland and Finland are all excellent locations to witness the Northern Lights. The photograph below displays the dazzling Northern Lights over Wiseman, Alaska.
Earth is not the only planet that features the amazing aurora borealis. NASA scientists have observed that Saturn also experiences the spectacular light show. Saturn’s aurora is generated when charged particles from the Sun interact with Saturn’s upper atmosphere.
The aurora borealis has captured the attention of mankind since its discovery in 1621 by French Scientist, Pierre Gassendi. People have traveled thousands of miles to bear witness to this spectacle that lights the skies.