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Topic – Lighting Up the Sky

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Lighting Up the Sky

The northern lights fascinate people. The dancing lights can shimmer in the night skies in shades of red, yellow, green, blue, and violet. Pale green and pink are the most common.

Spirits and Sky People

The northern lights are also known as aurora borealis (you say it like this: uh-ROAR-uh bore-ee-AL-iss). For thousands of years, Native people have watched the northern lights. The Cree people gave them the name “Dance of the Spirits.” According to Inuit people, the strange lights were caused by “sky people” playing ball.

These glowing lights are seen around the South Pole too. There, they are called the aurora australis (you say it like this: uh-ROAR-uh oss-TRA-liss).

What Causes the Northern Lights?

Northern lights happen high in Earth’s atmosphere when gas particles collide with electrically charged particles from the Sun. The Sun throws off those particles as it turns. They flow toward Earth on the solar wind.

Earth is surrounded by a magnetic field. Most of the Sun’s charged particles bounce off Earth. But the magnetic field is weaker at the poles. Some particles enter there.

Sometimes the Sun’s charged particles hit oxygen molecules that are high above Earth. That makes the molecules give off red light. The Sun’s electric particles sometimes strike oxygen molecules closer to Earth. Those particles glow green. When nitrogen particles are bumped, they shine reddish pink.

Take a Look

Northern Canada is one of the best places in the world to see the northern lights. The best times of year to see them are around March 21 and September 21. That is when the magnetic fields of Earth and the Sun are most closely lined up.

Can You Hear the Northern Lights?

Some people claim they hear crackles and hisses when they see the northern lights. Scientists say the sounds are caused by solar particles high above the ground. Next time you see the northern lights, listen hard. Can you hear them, too?


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