What are Northern Lights?

Aurora Borealis

Official name for the Northern Lights
The official name for the Northern Lights is Aurora Borealis. They light up the sky in the Northern Hemisphere above the magnetic North Pole. The Northern Lights are a natural light display in the sky that is created by the Solar Wind as it is passing Earth.

Southern Lights
Aurora Australius is the official name for the Southern Lights. The Southern Lights are not as well known as the Northern Lights. A large portion of the area where the Southern Lights are visible is Antarctica and the Southern Ocean where few people live.

The Southern Lights  in the Southern Hemisphere are almost identical to the Northern Lights. The interaction between the gases in the atmosphere and the Solar Wind create the dancing lights in the sky at the North and South Poles.

Northern Lights in Alaska  USGS

Watching the Northern Lights

Viewing lights near North Pole
People living close enough to the magnetic North Pole have watch the Northern Lights for thousands of years. The Ancient Chinese and Greek people wrote about the Northern Lights. The Eskimo’s and Scandinavian people have told oral stories about the Northern Lights for hundreds of years. 

Viewing Northern Lights in Norway, Sweden and Finland
Today, people living in Europe can travel to the northern parts of Norway, Sweden, and Finland to view the lights. Northern Norway is a favorite place for people living in Europe to view the lights. Guided tours and self drive tours are available in Iceland.

Watching Northern Lights in Fairbanks and Nome Alaska 
People living in North American can visit Fairbanks and Nome Alaska to view the lights. 
Canada’s Northwest Territories have places where you can watch the Northern Lights. The best months to watch the Aurora Borealis in these areas is February, March, September and October. 

Naming Aurora Borealis

Pierre Gassendi in 1621 named the glowing lights in the sky.  Aurora is the Roman goddess of dawn. Borealis is the Greek word for the north wind. Gassendi chose those two words because the Northern Lights are most active late at night or early in the morning when there is a new moon.