Aurora

A faint visual phenomenon associated with geomagnetic activity, which occurs mainly in the high-latitude night sky; typical auroras are 100 to 250 km above the ground.

The name comes from an older one, "aurora borealis" (Latin for "northern dawn") given because an aurora near the northern horizon (its usual location when seen in most of Europe) looks like the glow of the sky preceding sunrise. Also known as "northern lights", although it occurs both north and south of the equator.

The aurora is generally caused by fast electrons from space, guided earthward by magnetic field lines, and its light comes from collisions between such electrons and the atoms of the upper atmosphere, typically 100 km (60 miles) above ground. The auroral electrons typically have energies in the range 1-10 keV.

Auroral Oval
The region in which aurora appears at the same time, corresponding to the "ring of fire" around the magnetic pole, often observed by satellite cameras. It resembles a circle centered a few hundred kilometers nightward of the magnetic pole, and its size varies with magnetic activity. During large magnetic storms it expands greatly, making auroras visible at regions far from the pole, where they are a rare occurence.

Auroral Zone
The region on Earth where auroras are common--a smeared-out average (over time and distance from the magnetic pole) of the auroral oval. Typical magnetic latitude is 63-65 degrees.

See also: Aurora Australis, Aurora Borealis, Auroral Kilometric Radiation.

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Subjects: Physics