Northern Lights in Northern Canada

These ghostly light phenomena are simply fascinating, everyone should have experienced them in person at least once in their life. To do this, you don’t necessarily have to travel to the North Pole, as many people believe. Why the northern lights can sometimes even be seen in the temperate latitudes is also explained in more detail below.

You will find very good chances of observing the most beautiful phenomena of the aurora borealis in the “Northwest Territories” (the capital of which, Yellowknife, is also known as the capital of the northern lights ) and in the adjacent Yukon to the west, as well as in Alaska.

The cause of the northern lights lies in the sun

It is anything but a calm, warmly shining disc, our sun. The sun’s surface is almost 6,000 degrees and is constantly seething with energy. Often, huge amounts of the sun’s atmosphere are thrown explosively into interplanetary space.

The so-called “fast solar wind”, which essentially consists of protons and electrons, can reach speeds of up to three million kilometers per hour, which is almost three per thousand of the speed of light.

According to HANDBAGPICKS, this raging stream of charged particles can also rattle on the earth and then flies even further beyond the “last planet” Pluto. Disturbances caused by this in radio traffic, in communication with satellites and even large-scale power outages are not uncommon.

The sun’s activity is linked to the eleven-year sunspot cycle, which means that the aurora borealis by no means adheres to any of the seasons on earth. However, the northern lights can only be seen as light phenomena when the sky is as dark as possible, and this is the case in the northern hemisphere between October and February.

In the southern hemisphere, especially on the edge of the Antarctic or in the area of ​​the southern tip of South America, the northern lights can also be seen, where the phenomena are not referred to as northern lights , but rather as “southern lights”. These are clearly visible during the southern winter from April to August.

The protective screen of the earth

The magnetic field of our planet is also our life insurance. The magnetic field lines surrounding us, especially far out in the so-called magnetopause, force the incoming charged particles onto a spiral path that is guided along the magnetic field lines. In this way the solar wind is diverted towards the earth’s magnetic poles.

Formation of the northern lights or the aurora borealis

At some point the particle streams hit the uppermost layers of the atmosphere, where they stimulate the gas atoms to glow with their enormous energy. In principle, the electrons of the gas atoms are “pushed” to a higher energy level.

When they return to their original level from there, they emit electromagnetic waves, including in the visible frequency range. Therefore, one can roughly compare the formation of the northern lights with the physics of neon tubes.

Are the Northern Lights dangerous?

Yes and no. Although the charged particle stream of the sun is constantly focused in the polar regions (north and south), it is precisely the aurora borealis that absorbs its large (kinetic) amounts of energy and thereby massively slows down the particles.

Life on earth, and we humans also belong to it, has developed under the prevailing conditions and adapted to them over millions of years. Nevertheless, there remains a small residual risk for those who are constantly exposed to the northern lights .

For them there is a certain probability that individual high-energy particles could penetrate to the ground and cause changes in the cell nucleus, that is, cause cells to degenerate or even cause cancer.

Why are the Northern Lights so beautiful in Northern Canada?

The magnetic north pole does not exactly coincide with the geographic north pole, i.e. the point where the axis of rotation penetrates the globe. (This also applies to the magnetic south pole). What’s more, the magnetic poles are constantly moving.

The north magnetic pole is currently moving about 40 kilometers a year in a westerly direction. Around 1900 he was still in the northern Baffinland. This westerly drift of the magnetic north pole has something to do with the fact that the northern lights in northern Canada are usually more pronounced than in Finland, for example.

Expert information: What is the field reversal all about?

In fact, great dynamic processes take place in the interior of the earth, which lead to the “electromagnet” earth performing a pole reversal on average after about a million years. The migration of the magnetic poles can also be seen in this context. When the magnetic north pole becomes the magnetic south pole and vice versa, this does not happen overnight.

Rather, this is a process that can take more than 10,000 years, a geologically very short period of time by the way. In such a restless phase, our magnetic field loses the character of a dipole field and splits into a quadrupole, an octupole and more.

In this respect, there is still a protective magnetic field, albeit in a weakened form. After this phase, the reversed (stronger) dipole field stabilizes again.

Northern Lights / Northern Lights forecast

There are numerous apps and websites that offer a forecast of the possible visibility of the northern lights . These are quite reliable based on observing the sun and knowing about eruptions on the sun.

However, there are numerous factors that speak for and against the visibility of the northern / aurora. Therefore it can also be the case that you can see the Northern Lights if the forecast is poor or, if the forecast is very good, you are less fortunate.

Northern lights over the Yukon River at Dawson City

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