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Discovering the Northern Lights

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What are the Northern Lights?
The Northern Lights
Northern Lights in Scandinavia (Uriel Sinai/Getty Images) - Northern Lights Photo Gallery
The Northern Lights are one of the big three natural phenomena, created by our sun's magnetic activity. The Northern Lights are caused by large numbers of electrons that stream towards the Earth along a magnetic field and collide with air particles in our sky. The air then lights up rather like what happens in a fluorescent light tube - and what we see is the Northern Lights, also called Aurora Borealis.

The resulting colors of the Northern Lights reflect gases we find up there. The charged particles originate from the sun, and weather conditions on the sun and earth decide whether or not we will see this phenomenon (but the next pages in this section will help you optimize your chances). It's most common to see shades of green in the Northern Lights. Red Northern Lights are rare but you can enjoy them in our photo gallery.

A more scientific explanation of what the Northern Lights are:

The Northern Lights are created with sufficient geomagnetic activity and form at around 60 miles high (around 100 km) above the earth's surface. This makes the lights visible up to 260 miles (400 kilometers) away (on the horizon, due to the earth's curvature). During high geomagnetic activity, the Northern Lights show when electrons hit air particles, causing them to light up.

Let's find out where you can see the Northern Lights in Part 2.

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