The aurora is a natural light display that few people get to see. Brazilian photographer Felipe Pitta recently caught a rare glimpse of the phenomenon and shared his timelapse video with us.
To capture the aurora, Pitta traveled to Ersfjordbotn, Norway, a small village known as “The Fjord of Light.” Here’s a glimpse of the aurora that Pitta saw:
Auroras happen in areas of the Earth close to the Arctic and Antarctic circles. The light show is called the aurora borealis (northern lights) in the north and the aurora australis (southern lights) in the south.
The light is created by charged particles smashing into the Earth’s atmosphere. When fast-moving charged particles released by the sun, called the solar wind, reach Earth they are redirected by the Earth’s magnetic field. Some flow around the planet, while others are directed toward the Earth’s polar areas.
There, the electrons encounter atoms of oxygen and nitrogen. When the two particles smash together, they release energy in the form of light. The energy of the electron and the type of atom it hits determines the colour of the aurora.
Green aurora are caused by electrons hitting oxygen atoms that are less than 150 miles from the Earth’s surface, while red are caused by oxygen atoms more than 150 miles above the Earth. Blue aurora are caused by electrons hitting nitrogen atoms less than 60 miles above Earth, and violet is produced by collisions with nitrogen above 60 miles.
The solar wind particles stream out of the sun in constantly changing strengths and directions, which is what makes the aurora appear to “dance.” Atmospheric currents also influence the pattern of the aurora.
Auroras aren’t commonly seen from Earth, but they are frequently visible from space. Here’s what it looks like from the International Space Station:
Some of the best places to catch the aurora borealis are areas north of the Arctic Circle like the most northern parts of Alaska, Canada, Norway, Russia, and Greenland.
Seeing the Aurora Australia is far trickier because the only landmass south of the Antarctic Circle is Antarctica. Other potential viewing places include the Southern coast of Australia, New Zealand, and South America.
The maps below show auroral activity for today. They give you an idea of where you can usually catch them.
Here’s Pitta’s full timelapse. It’s worth watching:
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