Of all the amazing phenomena on Earth, none are as perhaps as magical as the northern lights, also known as aurora borealis.
The bright lights of the aurora are collisions between gaseous particles (in the Earth’s atmosphere) with charged particles (released from the sun’s atmosphere).
The lights are observed over the magnetic poles of the northern and southern hemispheres of the planet.
There are two types: The first are known as Aurora Borealis and these are the lights seen in the north, and those of the south are called Aurora Australis.
Although aurora displays come in various different colors, the most common are those in pale green or pink.
Nonetheless, observers have reported seeing different shades of red, yellow, green, blue, and violet.
The lights take on many different forms, from patches or scattered clouds of light to streamers, arcs, and from time to time, mighty Phoenixes lighting up the sky above the Earth.
The stunning Aurora lights usually extend from anywhere from 80 kilometers (50 miles) to as high as 640 kilometers (400 miles) above the earth’s surface.
Observations of Auroras are connected to numerous myths and legends.
The so-called Aurora Borealis, the lights of the north are usually referred to as “dawn of the north, while Aurora Australis are referred to as “the dawn of the south”.
According to Roman myths and legends, Aurora was the goddess of the dawn: She would travel from east to west announcing the coming of the sun.
Since the Aurora lights can take different shapes which sometimes resembles those of animals, the Inuit of Alaska thought that the lights were the very spirits of the animals they hunted: salmon, deer, seals and even beluga whales.
One of the first to document the existence of Auroras was Greek explorer Pytheas in the 4th century BC, although Seneca wrote about auroras in the first book of his Naturales Quaestiones. Furthermore, it is believed that Pliny the Elder depicted the aurora borealis in his book Natural History.
Although we have observed and recorded stunning examples of Aurora activity on Earth, our planet isn’t the only world in the solar system to host this stunning phenomenon.
According to astronomers, auroras have been observed on both Jupiter and Saturn, examples of which are most clearly visible in photographs by the Hubble Space Telescope, and the Cassini and Galileo spacecraft. Auroras have also been observed on Uranus and Neptune.
Researchers say that although aurorae on Saturn appear much like those on Earth, the aurorae on Jupiter are far more complex, and require further studies. Astronomers believe that auroral activity on Jupiter is associated with the plasma produced by Jupiter’s volcanic moon Io. This plasma makes its way to the planet’s magnetosphere, most likely producing auroras.
Astronomers have even reported observing auroras planets, Venus and Mars. Venus, for example, has no magnetic fields, which make its auroras appear as bright and diffuse patches of varying shape and intensity. In August of 2004, the SPICAM instrument aboard the Mars Express spotted aurora activity at Terra Cimmeria.
4 Striking images of Auroras on Earth
Photographing Auroras can sometimes result in mind-boggling images.
One such image was napped by 64-years-old photographer Hallgrimur P. Helgason in Kaldarsel who observed, and eventually photographed an aurora Borealis that had taken the shape of the legendary Phoenix, the majestic bird from Ancient Greek folklore.
Another striking image of the Aurora Borealis snapped over the Glacier Lagoon in Iceland is seen in the image below.
The Aurora’s melting colors mix with the icy surface and calm water.
As above so below, a stunning image of an Aurora Borealis photographed behind Kirkjufell mountain in Iceland. The aurora and its colors are reflected in the mirror-like surface of the crystal clear water at the foot of the mountain. Check out the image below.
Here below is another striking image. This photograph shows the Aurora borealis (also known as northern or polar lights) beyond the Arctic Circle in Lapland, Finland. The colorful auroras almost look like a landscape from a distant alien world.