1.  Their official name is the “aurora borealis.”  “Aurora” comes from the Roman goddess associated with the dawn; “borealis” is derived from from the Greek word for the north wind, “boreas.”

2.  In the southern latitudes, there is a similar phenomenon, called the “aurora australis.”  (Makes sense.)

3.  Pierre Gassendi, who is known for his work on the planet Mercury’s transit, coined the term “aurora borealis.”

4.  They are  caused by energetic charged particles colliding  with atoms in the high altitude atmosphere (like one big fender-bender in the sky).

5.  Auroras have also been observed on the gas giants (Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune and Uranus), as well as on Mars.

6.   The color of each aurora depends upon the gas particles that are busy bumping around.

7.  Some Inuit peoples believed that the auroras were the spirits of animals that they hunted.

8.  On some occasions, the northern lights have been seen as far south as New Orleans.  (Of course, after a particularly raucous Mardi Gras night in the French Quarter, one is likely to see just about anything.)

9.  The lights also produce a strange sound for those close enough to hear, which has been described as similar to the sound of applause.  (And why not?)

10.  For those ambitious enough, the polar map site at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association website can help predict when and where to see the Lights:  http://www.swpc.noaa.gov/pmap/

About these ads