Aurora Contents Introduction See also Aurora (disambiguation), Aurora Australis (disambiguation), or Aurora Borealis (disambiguation). Pictures of the aurora australis Images of the aurora australis and aurora borealis from around the world, including those with rarer red and blue lights An aurora is a natural light display in the sky (from the Latin word aurora, "sunrise" or the Roman goddess of dawn), especially in the high latitude (Arctic and Antarctic) regions, caused by the collision of solar wind and magnetospheric charged particles with the high altitude atmosphere (thermosphere). Most auroras occur in a band known as the auroral zone, which is typically 3째 to 6째 wide in latitude and observed at 10째 to 20째 from the geomagnetic poles at all local times (or longitudes), but often most vividly around the spring a n d a u t u m n e q u i n oxe s . T h e charged particles and solar wind are directed into the atmosphere by the Earth's magnetosphere. A geomagnetic storm expands the auroral zone to lower latitudes.
1 Overview 2 History of aurora theories 3 Auroral mechanism 3.1 Auroral colors 4 Forms and magnetism 5 Solar wind and the magnetosphere 6 Frequency of occurrence 7 Auroral events of historical significance 8 Origin 9 Sources and types 10 Sounds associated with auroras 11 Images 12 On other planets 13 In traditional and popular culture 14 See also 15 References 16 External links
Aurora Overview Auroras or aurorae are classified as diffuse and discrete. The diffuse aurora is a featureless glow in the sky that may not be visible to the naked eye, even on a dark night. It defines the extent of the auroral zone. The discrete auroras are sharply defined features within the diffuse aurora that vary in brightness from just barely visible to the naked eye, to bright enough to read a newspaper by at night. Discrete auroras are usually seen in only the night sky, because they are not as bright as the sunlit sky. Auroras occasionally occur poleward of the auroral zone as diffuse patches or arcs, which are generally subvisual. In northern latitudes, the effect is known as the aurora borealis (or the northern lights), named after the Roman goddess of dawn, Aurora, and the Greek name for the north wind, Boreas, by Galileo in 1619. Auroras seen near the magnetic pole may be high overhead, but from farther away, they illuminate the northern horizon as a greenish glow or sometimes a faint red, as if the Sun were rising from an unusual direction. Discrete auroras often display magnetic field lines or curtain-like structures, and can change within seconds or glow unchanging for hours, most often in fluorescent green. The aurora borealis most often occurs near the equinoxes. The northern lights have had a number of names throughout history. The Cree call this phenomenon the "Dance of the Spirits". In Medieval Europe, the auroras were commonly believed to be a sign from God. Its southern counterpart, the aurora australis (or the southern lights), has features that are almost identical to the aurora borealis and changes simultaneously with changes in the northern auroral zone. It is visible from high southern latitudes in Antarctica, South America, New Zealand, and Australia. Auroras occur on other planets. Similar to the Earth's aurora, they are visible close to the planet's magnetic poles. Modern style guides recommend that the names of meteorological phenomena, such as aurora borealis, be uncapitalized.
History of aurora theories Multiple superstitions and obsolete theories explaining the aurora have surfaced over the centuries. Seneca speaks diffusely on auroras in the first book of his Naturales Quaestiones, drawing mainly from Aristotle; he classifies them "putei" or wells when they are circular and "rim a large hole in the sky", "pithaei" when they look like casks, "chasmata" from the same root of the English chasm, "pogoniae" when they are bearded, "cyparissae" when they look like cypresses), describes their manifold colors and asks himself whether they are above or below the clouds. He recalls that under Tiberius, an aurora formed above Ostia, so intense and so red that a cohort of the army, stationed nearby for fireman duty, galloped to the city. Walter William Bryant wrote in his book Kepler (1920) that Tycho Brahe "seems to have been something of a homĹ“opathist, for he recommends sulfur to cure infectious diseases â€œbrought on by the sulphurous vapours of the Aurora Borealis."
Aurora History of aurora theories Benjamin Franklin theorized that the "mystery of the Northern Lights" was caused by a concentration of electrical charges in the polar regions intensified by the snow and other moisture. Auroral electrons come from beams emitted by the Sun. This was claimed around 1900 by Kristian Birkeland, whose experiments in a vacuum chamber with electron beams and magnetized spheres (miniature models of Earth or "terrellas") s h owe d t h at s u c h e l e c t ro n s would be guided toward the polar regions. Problems with this model included absence of aurora at the poles themselves, self-dispersal of such beams by their negative charge, and more recently, lack of any observational evidence in space. The aurora is produced by solar wind particles guided by Earth's field lines to the top of the atmosphere. This holds true for the cusp aurora, but outside the cusp, the solar wind has no direct access. In addition, the main energy in the solar wind resides in positive ions; electrons only have about 0.5 eV (electron volt), and while in the cusp this may be raised to 50â€“100 eV, that still falls short of auroral energies.
Auroras are associated with the solar wind, a flow of ions continuously flowing outward from the Sun. The Earth's magnetic field traps these particles, many of which travel toward the poles where they are accelerated toward Earth. Collisions between these ions and atmospheric atoms and molecules cause energy releases in the form of auroras appearing in large circles around the poles. Auroras are more frequent and brighter during the intense phase of the solar cycle when coronal mass ejections increase the intensity of the solar wind. Auroras result from emissions of photons in the Earth's upper atmosphere, above 80 km (50 mi), from ionized nitrogen molecules regaining an electron, and oxygen atoms and nitrogen molecules returning from an excited state to ground state.  They are ionized or excited by the collision of solar wind and magnetospheric particles being funneled down and accelerated along the Earth's magnetic field lines; excitation energy is lost by the emission of a photon, or by collision with another Oxygen is unusual in terms of its return to ground state: it can take three quarters of a second to emit green light and up to two minutes to emit red. Collisions with other atoms or molecules absorb the excitation energy and prevent emission. Because the very top of the atmosphere has a higher percentage of oxygen and is sparsely distributed such collisions are rare enough to allow time for oxygen to emit red. Collisions become more frequent progressing down into the atmosphere, so that red emissions do not have time to happen, and eventually even green light emissions are prevented. This is why there is a color differential with altitude; at high altitude oxygen red dominates, then oxygen green and nitrogen blue/red, then finally nitrogen blue/red when collisions prevent oxygen from emitting anything. Green is the most common of all auroras. Behind it is pink, a mixture of light green and red, followed by pure red, yellow (a mixture of red and green), and finally, pure blue.