How do the northern lights occur?

Aurora near Whitehorse, Yukon in September of 2015

Aurora near Whitehorse, Yukon in September of 2015

The northern lights, or aurora borealis, offer an entrancing, dramatic, magical display that fascinates all who see and photograph it — but just what causes this dazzling natural phenomenon?

As we all know, at the center of our solar system lies the sun. The sun's many magnetic fields distort and twist as our parent star rotates on its axis. When these fields become knotted together, they burst and create what we hear referred to as sunspots. Usually, these sunspots occur in pairs; the largest can be several times the size of Earth's diameter.

At the center of the sun, the temperature is 27 million degrees Fahrenheit (15 million degrees Celsius). As the temperature on its surface rises and falls, the sun boils and bubbles. Particles escape from the star from the sunspot regions on the surface, hurtling particles of plasma, known as solar wind, into space.

It takes these winds around 40 hours to reach Earth. When they do, they can cause the dramatic displays known as the aurora borealis.

When these winds hit earth, those who visit high latitudes with me experience colored lights shimmering across the night sky.

Some Inuit believed that the spirits of their ancestors could be seen dancing in the flickering aurora. In Norse mythology, the aurora was a fire bridge to the sky built by the gods.

So that’s the simplistic science behind how they are created…

Want to come see the aurora with us in Canada, one of the best spots on earth to see this spectacle? Check out our tours and workshops to the Yukon on our Canadian workshop page by visiting this link, http://northof49photography.com/photo-workshops/

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Kevin A Pepper

Kevin is a photographer and educator based in Waterloo, Ontario. His first love is photographing nature, regardless of the season or weather condition; the Ontario landscape and its wildlife are his inspiration. But you will also see other styles of photography in his portfolio. From street photography to urban exploration of abandoned buildings and architecture, he loves to capture it all with his camera for his corporate clients and his growing personal portfolio. Kevin’s images have been featured in Canadian Nature Photographer, PHOTONews Canada, Photo Technique Magazine, The London Free Press, The Weather Network, and National Geographic Online. His diverse client list includes the City of Cambridge, Olympus, GORE Mutual, TVO, and African Lion Safari. Kevin also operates “Northof49 Photography”, a company launched in 2012 dedicated to teaching amateur photographers through International and Canadian-based workshops. In the coming year, Kevin will be leading workshops in Iceland, Mongolia, Tanzania, Venezuela, Provence, and numerous destinations across Canada. Website: www.kevinpepperphotography.com