How did these lights come to be? Clouds of gas get ejected from the surface of the sun. Scientists call them coronal mass ejections. When the clouds reach our planet, they collide with the Earth’s magnetic field. The field causes complex changes to happen to the gas clouds’ magnetic tail regions. Particles colliding with oxygen and nitrogen atoms produce dazzling lights.
In late 2013, the Earth moved into a high speed stream of solar wind, receiving lots of waves of charged particles. The different colors occur because each individual atom gives off a different glow when colliding with the incoming solar wind.
Since blasts of energy from the sun are at their peak right now, there’s more likely the chance to see them in the continental United States. However, the best viewing place for the Northern Lights is in Alaska, where they’re visible most nights of the year. They occur at any time of the day, but we can only see them when it’s dark.
People are mesmerized by the Northern Lights. In some North American Inuit groups, the lights are called aqsarniit (“football players”) and seen as spirits of the dead playing football with the head of a walrus. The legend has elders warning children that the lights might come down and snatch them away. The lights have been occurring since ancient times.
A visit to Alaska wouldn’t be proper without taking time to observe the Northern Lights. 1st Alaska Outdoor School can take you to prime viewing lodges outside of Fairbanks for a perfect view of Alaska’s colorful skies.