What Causes The Northern Lights?

Physicists have long speculated about what gives rise to this very specific light phenomenon that occurs in the Earth’s polar regions.

Now they’re certain.

An article published in the journal Nature Communications this week suggests that the natural light show starts when disturbances on the sun pull on Earth’s magnetic field. That creates cosmic undulations known as Alfvén waves that launch electrons at high speeds into Earth’s atmosphere where they create the aurora…

The researchers used what’s known as the Large Plasma Device at the Basic Plasma Science Facility at the University of California, Los Angeles to re-create the interaction between Alfvén waves and electrons…

The researchers suggested that their findings could help understand more broadly how particles are energized and also give them a clearer picture of how events on the sun affect space near Earth as well as the technological infrastructure we have there, such as satellites.

For Schroeder, there is another much simpler benefit from this kind of research.

“This appeals to our sense of awe and wonder,” he said. “We’ve been captivated by auroras for thousands of years and looking at the night sky and appreciating their beauty. And I’ve always found that understanding more about how something is created enhances my appreciation of that beauty.”

I’ll second that emotion.

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