Mystery Surrounding Auroras Solved


The aurora borealis of the Northern Hemisphere and the aurora australis of the Southern Hemisphere are some of the most fascinating aspects of astronomy. Auroras are caused when electrons gain speed as they move along magnetic field lines into the upper atmosphere, where they collide with gas atoms, causing the atoms to give off light. Recently, researchers at the University of California’s Basic Plasma Science Facility in Los Angeles, USA, simulated the region of space where Earth’s magnetic field and solar winds interact to understand how electrons pick up speed to create amazing light displays.

Their study showed that electrons hitch a ride on Alfvén waves–a type of electromagnetic wave–and travel along the magnetic field lines. These waves travel at speeds that allow the electrons to reach the speed levels needed to create aurora displays. This is the first time that scientists have provided direct evidence that electrons surf on Alfvén waves to create auroras.

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