Why Are There Northern Lights?

The Northern Lights is one of those activities that are on most peoples bucket lists and it’s very rare that people will follow through to see them.  If you have no idea what it is then they are curtains of colored light in the upper atmosphere, caused by magnetic disturbances from the sun that collides with atoms. Technically known as an “aurora” (the North Pole aurora is called the aurora borealis), the Northern Lights give off colors that include red, green, blue, and violet, and a single display can last 10 to 15 minutes.

Here are a few facts about this great piece of nature:

  • The name “Aurora Borealis” is credited to Galileo Galilei (1616) and means “northern dawn.”
  • Churchill is the only place where you can experience the Northern Lights from the observation deck of a world famous Tundra Buggy.
  • Churchill lies directly beneath the Auroral Oval in the Northern Hemisphere, with auroral activity occurring on over 300 nights a year.
  • Most aurora occur between 90 and 130 kilometres (56 and 80 miles) above sea level, but some, particularly the ray-like forms, extend to several hundred kilometres up.
  • The aurora has a curtain-like shape, and the altitude of its lower edge is 95 or 110 kilometres (60 or 70 miles), about ten times higher than a jet aircraft flies.
  • The colours of the aurora are either a combination of red and green light, or red and blue light.
  • It is the nitrogen in the atmosphere that makes the aurora red and blue and the oxygen that causes the red and green colours to appear.
  • Some North American Inuit call the aurora aqsarniit (“football players”) and say the spirits of the dead are playing football with the head of a walrus.