1. Aurora Borealis is a natural phenomenon named after a Greek god and a Roman goddess.
The 17th century astronomer, physicist and philosopher, Pierre Gassendi, saw the Northern Lights on a trip in the North and named them the Aurora Borealis. Aurora was the Roman goddess of dawn who woke up the world with her torch. She was trailed by maidens who threw flower petals onto the world to ensure the start of a bright new day. The second word, Borealis, Gassendi derived from the Greek god of the north wind—Boreas.
2. Different combinations of elements determine the colors of the Aurora.
When a solar storm (or a magnetic storm on the sun) occurs, electrically charged particles, or ions, are rapidly drawn to the Earth by the its magnetic field. The ions then collide with the earth’s different gases in the upper atmosphere emitting various colors of light. The color of light depends on the type of ion (charged or not) and gas colliding together, and the altitude. Charged ions and nitrogen at a high altitude create a brilliant blue and charged ions that crash into oxygen at a lower altitude become a yellowish-green color, which is the most common color.
3. Sometimes the Northern Lights can affect the modern world.
Since the Northern Lights are created by solar activity, the same events from the Sun that causes the aurora often creates more than just a stunning display. During solar storms people have noted radio interference, satellites and other electronic equipment being affected. In extreme cases, a couple of major power blackouts have been blamed on severe solar storms.
4. Did you know that the Northern Lights Clap?
Many folktales and legends tell of crackling noises coming from the Northern Lights. Researchers from Aalto University in Finland published a study in 2012 and referred to recorded “clapping” sounds that they correlated to the visual presence of the Northern Lights. According to the study, these sounds were produced approximately 70 meters (230 ft) above ground and originated from solar particles creating geomagnetic disturbances.
5. Earth is not the only place with auroras.
Jupiter and Saturn—the gas giants of our galaxy—inhibit strong magnetic fields due to their gaseous, unsolid consistency, and during solar storms these fields create massive aurora ovals. Aurora ovals have also been seen on other planets such as Mars, Neptune and Uranus.
6. The Aurora Borealis has a sister
In Antarctica, there is also an aurora named the Aurora Australis, australis meaning southern. There is no difference in the two light shows—solar storms interfere with their magnetic poles, just on two opposite ends of the planet.
7. Ancients depicted this source of wonder in cave drawings in France.
Cro-magnon paintings in southern france most likely depict the Northern Lights. These paintings go back to 30,000 years before our time. But how did the Cro-Magnons see the Northern Lights from so far away? Some would guess that way back then, there was virtually no light pollution.
8. The Aurora works in cycles.
Everything has its own rhythm and cycle, and the solar activity that causes the stunning displays of the northern lights occur roughly every 11 years (10.66 to be exact). Since its discovery in 1849 by a German astronomer, scientists have compiled observations throughout the centuries and have dated solar cycles back to 1699. Since then, there have been 29.5 cycles. The next strongest peak of the cycle is in 2015-2016!
9. Never Miss the Northern Lights!
Several agencies, such as NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, monitor solar activity and issue aurora alerts when they are expected to put on a particularly impressive Northern Lights Show.