A Note on the Aurora

For the UAS Whalesong

Over the last week, many have noticed that the northern lights, also known as the aurora borealis, have been very active. The aurora occurs when charged particles from the sun strike atoms that are in the Earth’s atmosphere. Those charged particles cause the electrons there to more into a higher-energy state. So, when electrons move to a higher energy state it means that the cloud of electrons circling the nucleus move further way from way from the nucleus. When the electrons can no longer remain in that state they drop back down and that releases a photon. A photon is a particle of light.

There are a few different ways that the aurora can appear, such as curtains, arcs, and spirals. For the most part we usually see green, but other colors such as red, white, violet and pink are also possible in very strong displays. The colors are produced by oxygen and nitrogen, with different colors being produced by the molecules at different altitudes.

Unfortunately, living here in southeast Alaska, we don’t get too many clear nights. However, if you are looking for a way to check out what the aurora is going to be like, the University of Alaska Fairbanks has a great website (http://www.gi.alaska.edu/auroraforecast).

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