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Posted 01/30/2023 in Travel and Leisure Articles by

Why Are The Northern Lights Only Visible At The Poles?

Why Are The Northern Lights Only Visible At The Poles?

Northern and southern lights are natural spectacles that occur in the Earth's Polar Regions. Also known as Aurora Australis and Aurora borealis, they can appear as green, blue, and red ribbons of light dancing across the sky. This wondrous atmospheric phenomenon creates a breathtaking sight to behold and lights up the otherwise dark skies for hundreds of miles. 

But you might wonder, why are the auroras only visible at the poles? Well, read on to find out why!

A Connection Between Northern Lights And Sun's Flares

The connection between Earth and the sun facilitates a lot of marvels on Earth, being northern lights one of them. Similar to Earth, Sun has its own weather. One such activity that takes place on the surface of the sun is solar flares, which are large explosions of plasma. These flares are what cause space weather. When solar flares and coronal holes occur, they cause the sun to shoot out charged particles from its surface into space toward Earth. These particles travel through the solar wind until they reach Earth's magnetic field and cause and cause disturbances in our atmosphere. During this, an ionization process comes to pass wherein the charged particles collide with nitrogen and O2 atoms and transfer their energy to them. This reaction is what causes the colors we see when looking at northern lights.

When Do Solar Flares Occur?

Solar flares occur most frequently when magnetic fields on the sun's surface become tangled, then snap back into place like rubber bands stretched too far. The largest solar flares happen during periods of maximum activity on the sun, known as solar maximums. Maximum activity occurs every 11 years when sunspots appear at high latitudes on both sides of our star's equator — a region known as its latitude band.

Why Are Auroras Only Visible At the Poles, Though?

The Earth's magnetic field is generated by its molten core, which acts like a dynamo. When the intense bursts of radiation emitted from the sun interact with our magnetic field, they cause it to become distorted. This distortion causes electrical currents to flow along the magnetic field lines, creating an aurora effect.

The Earth's magnetic field is invisible, but it creates a force that pushes particles toward the north and south poles. When a solar storm hits the Earth, it can send these particles streaming toward the poles, which is called a substorm. In addition, the northern and southern hemispheres have opposite magnetic poles and act like giant magnets that attract charged particles from space.

Northern lights are only visible at the poles because the Earth's magnetic field lines converge there. Since the magnetic field lines don't converge anywhere else aside from the north and south poles, auroras are only seen at these locations and not in between them. That's why we have auroras at both poles: The charged particles simply flow into these areas and collide with gas molecules in our atmosphere, causing them to glow.

Are you planning on visiting Yellowknife to witness this beautiful and seemingly light show and looking for an affordable northern lights all-inclusive trip? Yellowknife Tours has got you covered! Call 867-873-4600 to get exclusive northern lights package deals and discounts.

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