When we think of the Aurora Borealis, also known as the Northern Lights, we somehow think that they are not that far away, perhaps only a few kilometers up.
The Northern Lights are actually generated from distances of 100 to more than 240 kilometers above the Earth. Their variety and colour is determined by their distance from us. In their most common green pattern forms, the lights range from 100-240 kilometers in the atmosphere.
The Northern Lights are created by the interaction of the Sun’s coronal ejections (largely protons and electons) with the Earth’s magnetic field. As the solar gases and magnetic field collide, a series of interactions with the oxygen and nitrogen in the Earth’s upper atmosphere takes place. The Sun’s charged plasma particles collide with the oxygen and nitrogen, releasing energy that manifests as light.
We tend to think of these northern lights as being more often present during the winter time, but they occur all year round. And despite their nickname, they also appear in the southern latitudes.
Our GLACIER team in Northern Manitoba sees the Aurora Borealis much more than we do. They are out on their test site all hours of the day, including the late hours of the night. In the deep of winter, the sun only shines for about 4 hours a day, so if the sky is clear, there’s lots of opportunity to view the Aurora while they work.
Our iconic test stand is however south facing. We often take group pictures of it, but the best view is standing in front of the large, south-facing Bell Mouth. While the GLACIER team could take pictures of the Northern Lights around their test stand, they could never get a front view of the Bell Mouth, because of the direction it faces!
But now we have a new iconic photo of our GLACIER Test Site. One night, the crew was able to frame their picture while facing south, and capture both the Bell Mouth and the Aurora Borealis – the Northern Lights – in the southern skies.