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AURORA BOREALIS

Kilian Schnberger
December 2009
SAS 8 Norwegian Area Studies

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Name and Origins


History
Northern Light Times
Morphing the Magnetic Field
Forming of Auroras
The Aurora Oval
Aurora Forms
Dancing Colours
Sources

Name and Origins


Name: Aurora Borealis Latin for Northern Dawn
One of the most impressive natural phenomena
First recorded incident: La Caverne de Lascaux SW
France
Fascinates and terrifies humans
Aurora Legends: Every northern culture has oral legends
about the aurora, passed down for generations

Medieval Age

People believed that the polar light is a bad omen


Fearing the red light
Especially while it is very rare in Middle Europe
The aurora was for example described as heaven battles
or as candles

Image source: gedds.pfrr.alaska.edu


Image source: gedds.pfrr.alaska.edu

Fridtjof Nansen
This Norwegian polar explorer tried to reach the north
pole with his ship Fram in 1895-96
He was blocked by ice but made many woodcuts and
drawings about the aurora

Fridtjof Nansen 1861-1930


Image source: gedds.pfrr.alaska.edu

Image source: gedds.pfrr.alaska.edu

Northern Light Times


Solar phenomenon in the
Ionosphere
Occurs while periods of high
solar activity
80-200km above ground
connected to the
magnetosphere

Image source: gedds.pfrr.alaska.edu

http://ds9.ssl.berkeley.edu/lws_gems/6/images_6/ion470.jpg

Image source: http://ds9.ssl.berkeley.edu/

Solar Winds
Solar winds are caused by energy released by the sun
Extension of Suns corona
High speed plasma

Image Source:
http://talklikeaphysicist.com/wpcontent/uploads/2008/10/sun-coronamass-

A long way towards earth


Interactions with the Ionosphere solar wind (speed
450km/h) carries a weak magnetic field
Interaction between this and the magnetic field of earth
Changes form of the earths magnetosphere
energy dissipates into gaseous form, causing Auroras or
stays in electric form
Dangers: Interrupting satellite transmissions / power
grids

Morphing the magnetic field


earth has a magnetosphere surrounding the planet
solar wind flowing past the earth
solar wind and the magnetosphere are two electrically
conducting fluids with magnetic fields
plasma and atoms collide
energy flow causes a change in magnetic field

Image Source:
http://odin.gi.alaska.edu/FAQ/

Magnetosphere

Earth has a dipole magnetic field similar to a bar magnet


Invisible magnetic field lines entering at the north pole, exiting at the south
pole
periods of high solar activity interaction between the solar wind and
magnetosphere
solar winds effect the comet shape
Bare Magnet

Image source: gedds.pfrr.alaska.edu

Image source: wikipedia.com

Forming of Auroras
Repeat: solar wind collides with atoms of the upper
atmosphere
Altitudes of 80-200km
Frequency usually follows the 11-year sunspot maximum
cycle.
Peak 3 years after the peak of the sunspot cycle.

Image source: nasa.com

The Aurora Oval


The aurora is often visible
at high latitudes
Magnetic field pressure is
strongest
Most often: Oval located
between 65 and 75
degrees latitude
Oval ranges from 500 to
1500 km in width
Zone statistically defined
Image Source: Akasofu, Syun-Ichi. Secrets of the Aurora Borealis

A aurora seen from space

Nasa

Image source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Aurora_Borealis.jpg

Where the aurora can be seen


Number of nights per
year aurora can be seen
at certain locations
Northern Norway:
100 nights each per year
Rest of Norway:
10 nights every year
Middle Europe:
1 to 0,1 nights each
years
http://gedds.pfrr.alaska.edu/aurora/Images/w1.jpg
Image source: http://gedds.pfrr.alaska.edu/

Simple aurora structure elements

Image source: http://gedds.pfrr.alaska.edu/


Images by Tom McEwan

Complex formations
Complex formations out of the shown elements:
Curl
Curtain
Omega band
Corona
Pulsating aurora

Combinations are also possible

Image source: fotocommunity.de

Images by Tom McEwan

Why colourfull?

High-speed discharge electrons collide with


atoms and molecules in the upper
atmosphere
Different kinds of atoms and molecules
produce different colours of lights
Emissions between 100 and 300 km
altitude
Image source: fotocommunity.de

Dancing Colours
>500km:
Hydrogen and Helium atoms take over
200-500km:
Oxygen atoms green / brownish-red
brightest single line emission of the aurora
100-200km:
Nitrogen molecules blue / red
blue/purple border
green line emission (oxygen) is quenched at this altitude
Akasofu, Syun-Ichi. Secrets of the Aurora Borealis.

The color of light emitted depends on the wavelength of


a photon: visible light ~400-700 nanometers (blue-red)

Auroras on other planets

Planets with magnetic fields have Auroras


Jupiter, Saturn have highest concentrations
Caused by Solar Winds
NASA image of Jupiter aurora in UV, Hubble Space
Telescope:

Image source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Jupiter.Aurora.HST.UV.jpg

Sources
Bryson, G. (2003): Nordlicht a study of the aurora
borealis, Mathematics Senior Thesis Presentation
Blixt, E. (2006): Optical flow analysis of the aurora
borealis, Trans. Geoscience and Remote sensing
Canadian Space Agency, Aurora Borealis Northern
Lights
University of Alaska, http://asahi-classroom.gi.alaska.edu
/ (18.11.2009)
http://wikipedia.org (18.11.2009)
http://www.fotocommunity.de (18.11.2009) Profil Thilo
Bubek
http://nasa.com (18.11.2009)