The north­ern lights are a mys­ti­cal, unpre­dictable and beau­ti­ful phe­nom­e­non that sud­den­ly appears and just as sud­den­ly dis­ap­pears. In this arti­cle, in addi­tion to breath­tak­ing pho­tographs, you will learn about what kind of phe­nom­e­non this is, get acquaint­ed with a num­ber of inter­est­ing facts that you prob­a­bly didn’t even know about. We will even delve into the ancient his­to­ry and folk­lore of var­i­ous peo­ples to learn more about the ori­gin of the north­ern lights. If the the­o­ry is too com­pli­cat­ed for you, leave your ques­tions in the com­ments, and be sure to get a detailed answer. I look for­ward to your feed­back, addi­tions and com­ments.

Northern Lights

In past issues of Life­Globe, we have writ­ten about such won­der­ful nat­ur­al phe­nom­e­na as rain­bows, as well as unusu­al clouds. Today I will tell you about the North­ern Lights. This is the glow of the upper lay­ers of the plan­et’s atmos­phere, which have a mag­ne­tos­phere, due to their inter­ac­tion with charged par­ti­cles of the solar wind.

Polar Lights

The North­ern Lights are an amaz­ing­ly beau­ti­ful, breath­tak­ing sight. It can last from sev­er­al hours to sev­er­al days.


The answer to the ques­tion, what is it, was the first to find Mikhail Lomonosov. After con­duct­ing count­less exper­i­ments, he sug­gest­ed the elec­tri­cal nature of this phe­nom­e­non. Sci­en­tists who con­tin­ued to study this phe­nom­e­non, on the basis of exper­i­ments, con­firmed the cor­rect­ness of his hypoth­e­sis. They filled hol­low tubes with nitro­gen, neon, hydro­gen, argon and oth­er rar­efied gas­es, pass­ing an elec­tric cur­rent through them. Each gas glowed (lumi­nesced) dif­fer­ent­ly. Then it was found that the glow of rar­efied gas­es occurs in the upper part of the atmos­phere — the ionos­phere (at an alti­tude of 80 to 1,000 km). A close con­nec­tion with the activ­i­ty of the Sun was also revealed. When explo­sions occur on it, charged par­ti­cles (cor­pus­cles) rush into the Earth­’s ionos­phere. Col­lid­ing with par­ti­cles of rar­efied gas­es locat­ed in the ionos­phere, they make them glow: the more active the Sun, the more the north­ern lights cov­er a larg­er area of ​​the sky. This phe­nom­e­non is espe­cial­ly strong dur­ing the max­i­mum peri­od of the 11-year cycle of solar activ­i­ty.

view from space

Northern Lights

So, the north­ern lights arise as a result of the bom­bard­ment of the upper atmos­phere by charged par­ti­cles mov­ing towards the Earth along the geo­mag­net­ic field lines from a region of near-Earth out­er space called the plas­ma lay­er. The pro­jec­tion of the plas­ma sheet along the geo­mag­net­ic field lines onto the Earth­’s atmos­phere has the form of rings sur­round­ing the north and south mag­net­ic poles (auro­ral ovals). Space physics is engaged in reveal­ing the rea­sons lead­ing to pre­cip­i­ta­tion of charged par­ti­cles from the plas­ma lay­er. It has been exper­i­men­tal­ly estab­lished that the ori­en­ta­tion of the inter­plan­e­tary mag­net­ic field and the pres­sure of the solar wind plas­ma play a key role in stim­u­lat­ing pre­cip­i­ta­tion. In a very lim­it­ed area of ​​the upper atmos­phere, auro­ras can be caused by low-ener­gy charged par­ti­cles of the solar wind enter­ing the polar ionos­phere through the north and south polar cusps. In the north­ern hemi­sphere, cusp auro­ra can be observed over Sval­bard around noon. When ener­getic par­ti­cles of the plas­ma lay­er col­lide with the upper atmos­phere, the atoms and mol­e­cules of the gas­es includ­ed in its com­po­si­tion are excit­ed. The radi­a­tion of excit­ed atoms is in the vis­i­ble range and is observed as auro­ra. The spec­tra of auro­ras depend on the com­po­si­tion of the atmos­pheres of the plan­ets: for exam­ple, if for the Earth the emis­sion lines of excit­ed oxy­gen and nitro­gen in the vis­i­ble range are the bright­est, then for Jupiter, the emis­sion lines of hydro­gen in the ultra­vi­o­let. Since ion­iza­tion by charged par­ti­cles occurs most effi­cient­ly at the end of the par­ti­cle path and the den­si­ty of the atmos­phere decreas­es with height in accor­dance with the baro­met­ric for­mu­la, the height of the appear­ance of auro­ras depends quite strong­ly on the para­me­ters of the planet’s atmos­phere, for exam­ple, for the Earth with its rather com­plex com­po­si­tion of the atmos­phere, a red glow of oxy­gen is observed at alti­tudes of 200–400 km, and the com­bined glow of nitro­gen and oxy­gen at an alti­tude of ~110 km. In addi­tion, these fac­tors also deter­mine the shape of the auro­ras — a dif­fuse upper and rather sharp low­er bound­aries.

See also
Franz Josef Glacier

The north­ern lights are observed main­ly at high lat­i­tudes of both hemi­spheres in oval zones-belts sur­round­ing the Earth­’s mag­net­ic poles — auro­ral ovals. The diam­e­ter of the auro­ral ovals is ~3000 km dur­ing the qui­et Sun, on the day side the zone bound­ary is 10–16° from the mag­net­ic pole, and on the night side it is 20–23°. Since the Earth­’s mag­net­ic poles are ~12° apart from the geo­graph­ic poles, auro­ras are observed at lat­i­tudes of 67–70°; how­ev­er, dur­ing solar activ­i­ty, the auro­ral oval expands and auro­ras can be observed at low­er lat­i­tudes, 20–25° south or north of their bound­aries. nor­mal man­i­fes­ta­tion. The north­ern lights in spring and autumn appear much more often than in win­ter and sum­mer. The peak fre­quen­cy falls on the peri­ods clos­est to the spring and autumn equinox­es. Dur­ing the auro­ra, a huge amount of ener­gy is released in a short time (dur­ing one of the dis­tur­bances record­ed in 2007 — 1?2 joules, about the same as dur­ing an earth­quake of mag­ni­tude 5.5. When observed from the Earth­’s sur­face, the auro­ra appears in the form a gen­er­al rapid­ly chang­ing glow of the sky or mov­ing beams, bands, crowns, “cur­tains.” The dura­tion of auro­ras ranges from tens of min­utes to sev­er­al days.

Northern Lights

The mag­net­ic fields of the giant plan­ets of the solar sys­tem are much stronger than the Earth­’s mag­net­ic field, which caus­es a larg­er scale of the auro­ras of these plan­ets com­pared to the auro­ras of the Earth. A fea­ture of obser­va­tions from the Earth (and in gen­er­al from the inner regions of the solar sys­tem) of the giant plan­ets is that they face the observ­er with the side illu­mi­nat­ed by the Sun and in the vis­i­ble range their auro­ras are lost in the reflect­ed sun­light. How­ev­er, due to the high con­tent of hydro­gen in their atmos­pheres, the radi­a­tion of ion­ized hydro­gen in the ultra­vi­o­let range and the low albe­do of the giant plan­ets in the ultra­vi­o­let, with the help of extra-atmos­pher­ic tele­scopes (the Hub­ble space tele­scope), fair­ly clear images of the auro­ras of these plan­ets were obtained. A fea­ture of Jupiter is the influ­ence of its satel­lites on the auro­ras: in the areas of “pro­jec­tions” of beams of mag­net­ic field lines on the auro­ral oval of Jupiter, bright areas of the auro­ra are observed, excit­ed by cur­rents caused by the motion of satel­lites in its mag­ne­tos­phere and the ejec­tion of ion­ized mate­r­i­al by satel­lites — the lat­ter is espe­cial­ly pro­nounced in the case of Io with its vol­can­ism. On the image of the auro­ra of Jupiter, made by the Hub­ble space tele­scope, the fol­low­ing pro­jec­tions are notice­able: Io (spot with a “tail” along the left limb), Ganymede (in the cen­ter) and Europa (slight­ly below and to the right of the Ganymede foot­print).

How­ev­er, sci­en­tif­ic def­i­n­i­tions seem too dry and soul­less when col­ored rays and stripes run across the sky, or a mul­ti-col­ored pul­sat­ing cur­tain flash­es across the whole space from east to west.

In ancient times, peo­ple did not under­stand nature, so many myths and beliefs are asso­ci­at­ed with the North­ern Lights.

Northern sijanie

In ancient Norse mythol­o­gy, the Bifrost Bridge is often men­tioned — a burn­ing, trem­bling arch that cross­es the sky, along which the gods could descend from heav­en to earth. It is pos­si­ble that the auro­ra bore­alis was the pro­to­type for this bridge. In some leg­ends, the rays of the auro­ra bore­alis are per­ceived as fires car­ried by Valkyries (daugh­ters of a glo­ri­ous war­rior or king who soar on a winged horse over the bat­tle­field and select the most brave war­riors to take them after their death to the heav­en­ly cham­ber of Val­hal­la). War­rior maid­ens are depict­ed wear­ing hel­mets, with shields and spears; from the bril­liance of their armor, accord­ing to leg­end, the north­ern lights appear in the sky.

See also
Pie Alley - Vlaikkensgang in Antwerp

In addi­tion to the Bifrost bridge, Finnish mythol­o­gy refers to the riv­er — Ruja — which burns with fire, and marks the bor­der between the realms of the liv­ing and the dead.

In Nor­we­gian folk­lore, the north­ern lights were described as a har­bin­ger of bad weath­er: it was assumed that the bright flash­es were fol­lowed by snow and wind. Oth­er Nor­we­gian folk leg­ends say that the north­ern lights are a heav­en­ly dance of the souls of dead maid­ens.

The Eski­mos in the Hud­son Bay area of ​​North Amer­i­ca, as well as else­where, know a great deal about the phe­nom­e­non of the north­ern lights. There is a myth among the Eski­mos that the auro­ra can be caused by whistling, while clap­ping your hands will make it go out. Oth­er Eski­mo myths say that the auro­ra is caused by spir­its play­ing sky foot­ball with a wal­rus skull.

Some Inu­it groups regard the north­ern lights as an indi­ca­tor of good weath­er to be brought by the spir­its. The Eski­mos at Poit Bar­row in Alas­ka saw the north­ern lights as malev­o­lent, and car­ried weapons with them for pro­tec­tion if they need­ed to go out­side dur­ing the north­ern lights. Also, some Eski­mos say: “He who looks at the north­ern lights for a long time will soon go crazy!”

Some tribes of North Amer­i­can Indi­ans believe that the north­ern lights are the light of lanterns car­ried by spir­its search­ing for the souls of dead hunters. Like the Eski­mos of Poit Bar­row, the Fox Indi­ans of Wis­con­sin feared the auro­ra, see­ing it as the ghosts of their dead ene­mies. Oth­er tribes expe­ri­enced the north­ern lights as the light of the lights used by the all-pow­er­ful north­ern shamans.

The North­ern Lights also entered the folk­lore of the Aus­tralian Abo­rig­ines, who saw them as the dance of the gods across the sky. The North­ern Lights were very pos­si­bly the source of Chi­nese drag­on leg­ends. The ser­pen­tine forms of auro­ral active zones are often depict­ed as celes­tial ser­pents in ancient chron­i­cles. Euro­pean drag­on leg­ends, too, may have their ori­gin in auro­ra activ­i­ty. How iron­ic that nowa­days many his­to­ri­ans believe that the leg­endary bat­tle of the patron saint of the Eng­lish (St. George) was most like­ly with this fre­quent Scot­tish phe­nom­e­non, the auro­ra, and not with the drag­on!

In the recent past, mis­con­cep­tions about the cause of the auro­ra were still com­mon among the gen­er­al pub­lic. For exam­ple, many peo­ple in the Amer­i­can Mid­west believed that the auro­ra was the reflec­tion of sun­light off the polar ice, over­look­ing the end­less dark­ness of the win­ter months in the Arc­tic! Anoth­er roman­tic expla­na­tion was that the light of the auro­ra is the result of ice­berg col­li­sions in the polar seas.

The most impres­sive North­ern Lights appear with a cycle of 11 years and 22 years, depend­ing on solar activ­i­ty. Satel­lite imagery con­firmed the old the­o­ry that the auro­ras in the north­ern and south­ern hemi­spheres are almost mir­ror images of each oth­er — these are rings with a diam­e­ter of about 4 thou­sand km around each pole. In the Mid­dle Ages, when the north mag­net­ic pole was locat­ed to the east, the auro­ra was often vis­i­ble in Scan­di­navia, north­ern Rus­sia and north­ern Chi­na. The chron­i­clers of that time explained this by the fact that it was giants fight­ing in the sky, or that spears sparkling with mul­ti-col­ored lights were fly­ing from heav­en to earth. Now the north­ern lights can often be observed in Scot­land, espe­cial­ly in April; it appears about four times a year in north­ern Flori­da, but it is most clear­ly vis­i­ble near the mag­net­ic poles: for exam­ple, in north­ern Cana­da and in the Ross Trench in Antarc­ti­ca. One of the most con­ve­nient places is North­ern Scan­di­navia; It is good to observe the auro­ra on the island of Sval­bard, north of Nor­way. And the auro­ra bore­alis is best observed on the Antarc­tic con­ti­nent. The auro­ras are also observed from space, where, among oth­er things, there is no dis­tort­ing influ­ence of the low­er dense lay­ers of the atmos­phere. Obser­va­tions from manned space­craft and orbital sta­tions have pro­vid­ed rich mate­r­i­al on the spa­tial arrange­ment of auro­ras, their change in time, and many fea­tures of this phe­nom­e­non. More­over, space­craft have made it pos­si­ble to take mea­sure­ments inside the auro­ra. Auro­ras can also be observed on the day side of the Earth in this way.

See also
Interesting facts about zebras

It is safe to say that research in recent decades, includ­ing the study of the phe­nom­e­non from arti­fi­cial Earth satel­lites and rock­ets and the cre­ation of arti­fi­cial auro­ras, has sig­nif­i­cant­ly enriched our knowl­edge of the north­ern lights. It is clear that not only the rid­dle of the north­ern lights has been unrav­eled, but also a large amount of fac­tu­al mate­r­i­al has been accu­mu­lat­ed about the space sur­round­ing our plan­et, the state of the inter­plan­e­tary medi­um and solar radi­a­tion, includ­ing flux­es of charged par­ti­cles. And yet the prob­lem of the north­ern lights is still far from being solved. Indeed, we know that this is a glow of the upper atmos­phere at high lat­i­tudes of the north­ern and south­ern hemi­spheres of the Earth, caused by ener­getic charged par­ti­cles invad­ing the Earth­’s mag­ne­tos­phere on their way from the Sun. The main reg­u­lar­i­ties of the man­i­fes­ta­tion of the north­ern lights are also known: their depen­dence on height, geo­graph­i­cal loca­tion, solar activ­i­ty, per­tur­ba­tions of the Earth­’s mag­net­ic field, etc. And yet, at the present time, we still can­not not only describe quan­ti­ta­tive­ly this phe­nom­e­non, but even pre­dict in advance many of the reg­u­lar­i­ties of the forth­com­ing north­ern lights. The prob­lem of north­ern lights is too com­plex and mul­ti­fac­eted. For exam­ple, the con­nec­tion between the north­ern lights and the weath­er is still unclear. North­ern­ers are well aware that the north­ern lights are more often observed on frosty nights. There is no expla­na­tion for this yet. At the same time, unex­pect­ed rela­tion­ships are emerg­ing, wait­ing for their future researchers, in rather unusu­al ques­tions. Is it only the fear of incom­pre­hen­si­ble impres­sive nat­ur­al phe­nom­e­na that under­lies these super­sti­tions? It is now well known that solar rhythms with dif­fer­ent peri­ods (27 days, 11 years, etc.) affect the most diverse aspects of life on Earth. Solar and mag­net­ic storms (and the asso­ci­at­ed north­ern lights) can cause an increase in var­i­ous dis­eases, includ­ing dis­eases of the human car­dio­vas­cu­lar sys­tem. Changes in the cli­mate on Earth, the occur­rence of droughts and floods, earth­quakes, etc. are asso­ci­at­ed with solar cycles. All this makes us once again seri­ous­ly think about the con­nec­tion between the north­ern lights and earth­ly cat­a­clysms and trou­bles. Maybe the old ideas about such a con­nec­tion are not so stu­pid? The north­ern lights sig­nal the place and time of the impact of the Cos­mos on earth process­es. The inva­sion of charged par­ti­cles that caus­es them affects many aspects of our lives. The ozone con­tent and the elec­tric poten­tial of the ionos­phere change, the heat­ing of the ionos­pher­ic plas­ma excites waves in the atmos­phere. All this affects the weath­er. Due to addi­tion­al ion­iza­tion in the ionos­phere, sig­nif­i­cant elec­tric cur­rents begin to flow, the mag­net­ic fields of which dis­tort the Earth­’s mag­net­ic field, which direct­ly affects the health of many peo­ple. Thus, through the north­ern lights and the process­es asso­ci­at­ed with them, the Cos­mos affects the nature around us and its inhab­i­tants.


northern light

Northern Lights