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  the aurora
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  what are the northern lights
  what causes an aurora?
  so how does it work?
  do the aurorae affect us?
  what's twinkling got to do with it?
  tracking space storms
  working in the Arctic
  Antarctic lights
  life in the Antarctic

what causes an aurora?

 

The solar wind can bring fast-moving particles towards the Earth, interacting with the Earth's magnetic field. Sometimes this causes the Earth's magnetic field to change and particles are accelerated towards the polar regions. These particles interact with the atmosphere making it glow in many different colours and causing the effect we call an aurora.

 
   

These colourful displays are called the northern lights (or aurora borealis) in the northern hemisphere, and the southern lights (or aurora australis) in the southern hemisphere.

 

By making measurements of the solar wind from observatories in the Arctic, I can predict when we'll see the northern lights. If they were really just pretty lights in the sky this would be interesting but not very important. However, aurorae can be the warning lights for some real problems on and around the Earth.

If you are a fast and dense part of the solar wind, and also heading in a southerly direction - enter here! The strength and direction of the solar wind and it's magnetic field has to be just right if it to be 'let in' by the Earth's magnetic field. Only then can it hit the atmosphere and create an aurora.
   

 

   
 
 

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