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Daddy... What Makes the Lights Shine?

What causes the Northern Lights? Think of it this way...

Somebody throws handfulls of confetti in front of a huge fan. Soon it looks like a snowstorm in the room as the air is filled with tiny bits of paper.

Another person stands on the other side of the room with a big vacuum cleaner, holding the nozzle up into the air. A third person holds an electrified metal heating grid over the opening of the vacuum nozzle.

The vacuum starts to pull confetti out of the air, but before the bits of paper can enter the nozzle, they hit the grid - bursting into flame.

The Sun's magnetic field (the fan) throws charged particles from its atmosphere (the confetti) out into space (the room). As these particles near the Earth they are pulled in by its magnetic field (the vacuum), which pulls them down to the magnetic poles (the nozzle). Before they can reach the Earth, the charged particles hit the Earth's atmosphere (the grid) and collide with the gases found there. The reaction between those particles and the gases creates energy, and the energy is given off as light - the Northern Lights.

Simple, huh?

PICTURE (Right): The Earth's magnetic field lines are blue where the field is directed inward (Northern Hemisphere) and yellow where directed outward (Southern Hemisphere).

Northern Lights SLIDE SHOW

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Library: Arctic, Northern Lights , Sky/Seasons
Links: Arctic, Northern Lights
Arctic Maps & Weather Reports


Double-click any unlinked word DICTIONARY: Just "double-click" any unlinked word on this page for the definition from Merriam-Webster's Student Electronic Dictionary at Word Central.
Arctic Library ARCTIC LIBRARY & GLOSSARY: Check this section for an index of the rest of the things you really need to know about the Arctic.
All sorts of Arctic Maps ARCTIC MAPS & WEATHER REPORTS: Maps of the Northwest Passage, explorers' routes, iceberg sources, Nunavut, the Arctic by treeline, temperature...
Links to related sites. ARCTIC LINKS: Even more information! Links to sites related to the Arctic and "Iceberg: the Story of the Throps and the Squallhoots".
A Guide to Arctic Sunrise and Sunset GUIDE TO ARCTIC SUNRISE & SUNSET: How much sunlight or darkness is there in the Arctic on each day of the year?

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