Environment & Biodiversity

Aurora Borealis: What are the Northern and Southern Lights? Why do they happen?

  • In a rare occurrence, the northern lights, or aurora borealis, filled the night sky over Hanle hamlet in Ladakh.
    • Concurrently, the southern lights, or aurora australis, were seen in New Zealand and Australia. 

What are Auroras?

  • Auroras are natural light displays that seem like dazzling, twirling curtains in the night sky.
  • They are most commonly spotted at the poles, although they may also be found at lower latitudes.
  • The interaction of sun particles with various gases in the Earth’s atmosphere causes these lights to exhibit a variety of colours, including blue, red, yellow, green, and orange. 
  • The phenomenon is known as:
  1. Aurora borealis in Northern Hemisphere and
  2. Aurora australis in Southern Hemisphere

What creates auroras?

  • Interaction with Earth’s Magnetic Field: As the solar wind reaches Earth, it interacts with the planet’s magnetic field, allowing some charged particles into the atmosphere near the poles.
  • Interaction with Gases: When these particles interact with gases in the high atmosphere, they produce bright flashes of light. Collisions with oxygen generate green light, but interactions with nitrogen produce blue and purple light.

Impact on Technical Infrastructure

  • Auroras can disrupt space-based systems and activities.
  • Such incidents may cause disruptions to Global Positioning Systems (GPS), radio communications, airline operations, power grids, and space research efforts. 

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