Physics To Go is an online monthly mini-magazine and a collection of more than 1000 websites with physics images, activites, and info. You can view an archived version of our January 1, 2013 issue, Auroras from space below, or click to see our September 1, 2013 issue, Two views of Earth.

Physics in Your World

Atmospheric Optics: Aurora, Northern Lights image
image credit: NASA; image source; larger image

Atmospheric Optics: Aurora, Northern Lights

This image shows a view of the Aurora Borealis captured from the International Space Station as it flew over Nebraska. For more information, see NASA Image of the Day Gallery.

To find out more about auroras, visit this Atmospheric Optics page and also the Exploratorium's Auroras: Paintings in the Sky.

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Physics at Home

Spectral Lines

Auroras are produced when charged particles from the sun collide with atoms in the atmosphere and transfer energy to them. This energy is then given off as light. Check out Spectral Lines to find out how atoms produce light.


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From Physics Research

NASA's IMAGE Satellite View of Aurora Australis from Space image
image credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Visualization Studio; image source; larger image

NASA's IMAGE Satellite View of Aurora Australis from Space

You are looking at a composite: The image of the southern lights (Aurora Australis) is superimposed on a "Blue Marble" image of Earth; both images were captured by satellite. Click on NASA's IMAGE Satellite View of Aurora Australis from Space to see a video of this aurora.

Notice that the Aurora occurs at about the same latitude. That's because the Aurora's green light is produced by charged particles from the sun, which collide with oxygen atoms in the atmosphere. These charged particles follow Earth's magnetic field lines. Where these lines come close together, near the two poles (like the field lines of a bar magnet), the Aurora can occur. For more on this process see Astronomy Notes.


Worth a Look

Aurora over Antarctica

For a view from the ground of an aurora over Antarctica, check out this Astronomy Picture of the Day.

And to see an aurora video captured from the International Space Station over the Indian Ocean, click here.


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