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Posted 06/28/2022 in Arts and Entertainment Articles by

Why Do The Northern Lights Only Happen In The North And South Pole?

Why Do The Northern Lights Only Happen In The North And South Pole?

Dawn of The North

The northern lights are also known as aurora borealis, which translates to "dawn of the north." They are caused by solar winds, which are charged particles that stream off the sun, entering our planet's atmosphere near the magnetic poles. As the elements in solar winds hit our atmosphere, they collide with atoms and molecules of gases such as oxygen and nitrogen. These collisions produce light emissions that we can see from Earth. The colors we see depend on the type of gas particles that are colliding.

Dawn of The South

A counterpart of northern lights in the southern hemisphere is called aurora australis or the "dawn of the south." We can only see them from Antarctica because, unlike northern lights, aurora australis don't typically extend south enough to be viewed from cities in Australia or New Zealand.

Difference Between Northern and Southern Lights

The northern lights are natural light phenomena that occur in the upper atmosphere. They are usually observed in the Arctic region and the Antarctic. On the other hand, the southern lights are seen in southern hemisphere nations. The difference between these two types of auroras is that they occur at different altitudes above Earth's surface. The aurora borealis (northern lights) appear at heights of 100 miles to 400 miles up and can be seen as far south as Alaska, Canada, and Russia. In comparison, the aurora australis (southern lights) occurs at heights of 50 miles to 100 miles up from Earth's surface and can be seen in Australia, New Zealand, etc. 

Why Do The Northern Lights Only Appear Near The North and South Poles?

The short answer is that Northern Lights only happen at high latitudes because the electromagnetic field lines are horizontal or nearly horizontal at the Earth's surface.

A slightly more complex answer is that it all comes down to the Earth's magnetic field. While it acts as a shield against harmful cosmic radiation by deflecting particles away from our planet, its shape also affects where we can see auroras. The magnetosphere is a region around our planet within which its magnetic field traps charged particles. It extends tens of thousands of kilometers into space and has two lobes on either side of Earth's equator. At its poles, it is much stronger than anywhere else on Earth. 

The aurora only happens at high latitudes because the magnetic field lines in these places intersect with the atmosphere, and not at lower latitudes because they are essentially parallel to the atmosphere and do not intersect with it. The most important part of this explanation has to do with how magnetic fields interact with charged particles. The fact that magnetic fields can filter out charged particles is why you don't get struck by lightning when you're near a power line during a thunderstorm.

The northern lights (aurora borealis) and southern lights (aurora australis) are two of the most breathtaking sights in nature. If you're planning to see aurora borealis, it's worth checking out some of the available northern lights package and holiday deals. To get the most out of your exciting voyage and book your northern lights guided tour, call Yellowknife Tours at 867-873-4600.

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