Most auroras are green and white. They sweep across the sky from horizon to horizon. The lights look they are moving and bending.They swirl in a new directions. There are two pathways. After awhile, the twin pathways start to move faster and form a big band. After awhile, the solid pathway of the aurora breaks into bars like vertical blinds. Often, a red border underlines them. Then like a swing, the lights seem to swoop down and go right back up to the sky. Awesome, isn't it? Sometimes, after all this, the auroral curtain folds and becomes a ball of light, dancing in the sky. This reminds some people of an old story about spirits playing soccer with a walrus skull, which was the light. The red boarder was the walrus blood. Finally, as if the skull had been kicked too hard, the ball of lights exploded, shooting colorful lights all around. Sometimes auroras can be different colors, and people often say that they look like hanging curtains from the sky.
The auroras are also often called the Northern and Southern lights. Along time ago, people in the North thought that auroras could come down and get children that disobeyed. We are happy to know now that that is not true.
Long ago, people thought auroras were different things. Here are some of the beliefs about the auroras. Some Asians thought the lights were dragons battling in the sky. Russians thought that it meant the spirits were lighting the way for a new birth of a child. To some Scandinavians, the auroras indicated a change of luck, good to bad, bad to good. American Indians thought that the red auroras were fires of enemies ready to battle and white auroras the torches of spirits fishing at night. New Zealand Natives considered auroras as campfires of lost souls. Other stories said that auroral displays were for reminding them of their creator or to announce the end of the world. Fifty years ago people believed that auroras were nothing but reflecting light from the sun or moon on the ice or from crystals in the atmosphere. In 1619, an astronomer named Galileo named the glow in the sky "Aurora" after the Roman goddess of the dawn. He mistakenly believed the glow was a reflection of the dawn. He was wrong, but the name stuck.
The lights by the North Pole are now called the AURORA BOREALIS (Borealis means "of the North" in Latin). The Southern lights are called the AURORA AUSTREALIS (Austrealis means "of the South" in Latin). These two are also called the Northern and Southern lights. Not many people can see the Southern lights. It wasn't until 1773 when an English navigator Captain James Cook reported he saw them on a voyage in the South Seas, and it became known that the South Pole had auroras. Usually the North and South Poles auroras happen at the same time, and when they do, they have the same exact patterns, only reversed, like a mirror. Now that, you have to admit, is pretty cool!
Auroral lights come from great
storms in the sun. When the storm explodes, the sun shoots out
plasma, and it blows in all directions. This is called solar
wind. When the plasma gets toward the Earth, it gets stuck in
the earth's magnetic field. As the electrons in the plasma hit
the atoms in Earths atmosphere, the atoms get electrically excited.
This causes the gasses in the air to glow. The more electrons
to get the atoms excited, the brighter the glow. Kind of like
the saying, "The more the merrier," isn't it?
Did you know there are more to auroras then we can see. Auroras include three types of light: infrared, ultraviolet, and visable. We can only see the visible light in auroras. Earth is not the only planet with auroras. Saturn, Jupiter, and Uranus also have colorful auroras.
The best view of an aurora is in
the center of the auroral zone, far from the city lights. In
the northern hemisphere,
the best place to see auroras is outside Fairbanks, Alaska. In
the southern hemisphere, the big place is over the ocean off
the coast of Antartica.