You probably know them as the northern lights, but regardless of what you call them, their beauty takes your breath away. Today, I'm doing a fun facts post about the northern lights, featuring images by Dennis O'Hara of Northern Images Photography in Duluth, Minnesota.
The northern lights got their name by putting two Latin names together. Aurora who is the Roman goddess of dawn and Boreas, which is the Greek term for the north wind. Galileo is said to have put the two names together to call them Aurora Borealis. He believed, however, that were caused by sunlight reflected from the atmosphere, which we now know isn't the case.
The northern lights are a demonstration of the Earth's magnetic field connecting with charged particles from the sun. The color of the aurora depends on what kind of electrons encounter which type of atoms. Oxygen in the upper part of the atmosphere can cause green or red light. Red light can form in the lower atmosphere when electrons collide with nitrogen protons. The most commonly seen green light is formed by oxygen molecules colliding with ions located about 95 km above the earth. The auroras are centered on the earth's magnetic poles, which is why often times the auroras can be seen farther south than expected. The southern lights are called Aurora Australis, and can only be seen during the winter on the southern hemisphere, which is the summer for the northern hemisphere. They are just as breathtaking as the Aurora Borealis.
The northern lights are visible from space! The astronauts on the International Space Station can see them and satellites in orbit can snap pictures of them from the nightside of the earth.
Earth is not the only planet to have the northern lights! Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune all have auroras as well. Jupiter and Saturn have more powerful ones than earth because their magnetic fields are more intense.
The Northern Lights often appear to rise from the tree line, but that's an optical illusion. The closest they ever get to Earth is 50 miles above the Earth’s surface. As a comparison, airplanes fly about 6-8 miles above the earth.
NOAA has a 30 minute forecast for the aurora on their website! You can see where the lights will be the strongest within the next 30 minutes. They also have many other resources for predicting the best place to find the lights! Check it out here.
“Charity,” Gulliver whispered as he shook my hip. “Wake up.” I opened my eyes to his smoky ones gazing straight into mine. He pointed up, and I flipped to my back to stare into the night sky. I gasped when my brain registered the green light undulating across the stars, illuminating the sky. The pink and white layers merged with the green, leaving the blackness of the night above it to appear wholly lost in space. The stars were brilliant pinpricks of light, and I was confident I could touch them if I reached my hand out toward the dancing lights. The streaks were vivid but fleeting, while the aurora bounced around us. The lights were quickly chased away by one color, only to return in a breath with a new one.
“This is unlike anything I ever expected.” I sighed with my gaze transfixed on the sky. “I’ll never be the same.”
We sat for the next half an hour in silence, save for an occasional gasp or look at that breaking the silence of the night. We stared into the sky until the lights started to fade and the stars and night stole back their canvas...
A huge thank you to Dennis O'Hara for sharing his beautiful images of the northern lights with us today! He has so many wonderful photos of the north shore on his website Northern Images! He also has some wonderful images of the Apostle Island Sea Caves, which are another landmark featured in Butterflies and Hazel Eyes. You can find Dennis here!
Katie Mettner wears the title of 'the only person to lose her leg after falling down the bunny hill' and loves decorating her prosthetic leg to fit the season.
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