Scientists Explain Northern Lights

Finding could help scientists predict storms that take out satellites
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 24, 2008 7:01 PM CDT
A band of Aurora Borealis, the Northern Lights, stretches over the Chugach Range near Palmer, Alaska, in this file photo.    (AP Photo)
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(Newser) – Scientists say they have solved the mystery of what causes the dazzling northern lights to seemingly dance across the sky, Wired reports. The light show, also known as aurora borealis, is triggered by explosions of magnetic energy about 80,000 miles away. The findings—drawn from five NASA satellites working in tandem with ground observers—might help scientists better predict geomagnetic storms that take out satellites.

“We discovered what sparks the magnificent light show of the aurora,” said one of the scientists. The breakthrough came when satellites detected the start of a magnetic storm earlier this year. Within minutes, observers on earth noted that the northern lights began to brighten and fluctuate. (Read more northern lights stories.)