Science Behind the Brightest Auroras

Though scientists have long understood the basic mechanism behind auroras (aka the northern lights or southern lights), a new paper published by Nature Communications offers “definitive evidence” on the spectacular physical process behind the brightest auroras. These colorful, undulating displays typically occur when particles charged by the Sun enter into Earth’s magnetosphere, collide with molecules and generate energy. However, physicists from the University of Iowa; Wheaton College; University of California, Los Angeles; and the Space Science Institute in Los Angeles now maintain that brighter auroras arise when these charged particles have their “electrons accelerated by a powerful electromagnetic force called Alfvén waves,” Ars Technica reports. Read more about these waves, and the different kinds of auroral displays, there.

Image courtesy of Austin Montelius, University of Iowa