Magnetic storms often result in the sighting of auroras, colourful displays that appear in the night sky, at places much nearer to the equator than where they are usually seen. Auroras are commonly seen in areas around Earth's polar regions. They are often referred to as the Southern Lights or Aurora Australis in the Southern Hemisphere, and the Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis in the Northern Hemisphere. Auroras are a dynamic and visually striking manifestation of magnetic storms on Earth.
Auroras happen when charged particles from the Sun enter the magnetosphere. Once inside, the geomagnetic field directs them toward the north and south magnetic poles. Travelling at high speeds the particles collide with gas molecules and atoms in the atmosphere, which energises them. A visible glow appears when they release the energy and return to their ground states, much like the way a fluorescent light works.
When a magnetic storm occurs, the auroral zones expand towards the equator from the polar regions, sometimes providing spectacular displays to residents of mid-latitude regions. During intense magnetic activity auroral displays have been reported from as far north as Queensland.
Topic contact: firstname.lastname@example.org Last updated: February 10, 2012