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  • Annika Santhanam

The Light Show in the Sky - What is the Aurora Borealis?

Dancing lights in the sky? This must be the work of magic!

This was the common viewpoint of the Aurora Borealis for years, but this big and beautiful phenomena has a very practical explanation. Though the Aurora Borealis usually occurs in the North Pole, it was recently able to be viewed in New Jersey on October 30th, 2021!

How Does the Aurora Borealis Occur?

The Aurora Borealis may not be the work of wizards or aliens in the sky, but its cause is still very interesting. The cause of this event traces its way all the way back to the sun, when particles full of energy are released from the sun, an occurrence known as solar winds. These solar winds are propelled towards our planet’s upper atmosphere, but they are extremely strong and possibly dangerous to Earth! Luckily, our Earth has its own force field - our magnetic field! The planet’s magnetic field takes the particles in the solar winds and pushes them towards the poles of the Earth, causing the Aurora Borealis in the North and the Aurora Australis in the South (Southern Lights). This redirection causes the dancing lights above the poles!

Interestingly enough, this scientific explanation of the Northern Lights wasn’t created until the 20th century by scientist Kristian Birkeland, and his theory was only proved after his death. This made the Aurora Borealis a significant part of the folk tales and legends of many cultures and religions due to the magical nature of the phenomena, allowing it to be recognized in cave paintings long before it was officially named. The Aurora Borealis gets its name from famous astronomer Galileo Galilei, who combined the Roman name for the goddess of the dawn, Aurora, with the Greek name for the god of the north wind, Boreas.

How Was the Aurora Borealis Visible in New Jersey?

The Aurora Borealis’s surprise appearance in New Jersey was caused by a sudden eruption of particles from the sun, known as a solar flare. Because this eruption was so strong, its interaction with Earth’s magnetic field caused a geomagnetic storm that extended the reach of the Aurora Borealis across the upper half of the United States, including New Jersey.

However, it might not have been possible to actually see the phenomena in New Jersey, despite it stretching to this area. Due to the amount of light pollution that exists in New Jersey’s cities and the clouds covering the sky, it might not have been possible to see the Aurora Borealis on October 30th in New Jersey.

Where Can I Go to See the Aurora Borealis?

According to, the best place to go is anywhere within the radius of the North Pole (1,550 miles from the pole), which is referred to by scientists as the “auroral zone.” lists several areas where you can head, including Fairbanks, Alaska; Abisko National Park in Sweden; and any location in Iceland. The best time to go is between September and April to ensure that skies are dark enough to see the Aurora Borealis, and of course, to go on good weather days to ensure no clouds will block your view!

In the future, we may be able to see the Aurora Borealis once again in the United States, or even get the opportunity to travel and see them closer to the North Pole! Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more articles!



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