The origins of the northern lights have no more secrets

A team of scientists has finally managed to prove what causes the northern lights. Everything depends on powerful electromagnetic waves during geomagnetic storms.

For millennia now, researchers have tried to understand what lies behind the origins of the beautiful northern lights. Until now, the mystery had only been hypothesized, but never demonstrated. Instead, a team of physicists at the University of Iowa has published a study that finally shows how Earth's brightest light shows are produced by powerful electromagnetic waves during geomagnetic storms. These phenomena are also known as Alfven waves, and the research details what happens when the sky lights up with beams of green-colored light.

The secret to the origin of northern lights

The lead author of the study on northern lights is James Schroeder, an expert at Wheaton College. The investigation shows that Alfven's waves accelerate electrons toward Earth, causing the particles to produce the light show we know as the "aurora borealis." Greg Howes, an associate professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Iowa and co-author of the research, described the phenomenon as similar to "a surfer moving along with the wave." The idea of electrons "surfing" on the electric field is actually a theory that had been introduced as early as 1946 by a laughing physicist, Lev Landau, but has only now been demonstrated.

For the first time, an aurora borealis was simulated in a laboratory at the Large Plasma Device at UCLA, the University of California. Scientists used a 20-meter-long chamber to recreate the Earth's magnetic field. Inside the machine, they then generated a plasma similar to that which exists in near-Earth space. As the electrons began to "sail" along the wave, another instrument was used to measure how they were gaining energy. Although the experiment did not recreate the glow of real northern lights, the scientists explained that the measurements in the lab agreed with predictions obtained through computer simulations and mathematical calculations, showing that electrons navigating Alfvén's waves can accelerate the electrons (up to a speed of 45 million mph) that cause the aurora.

The discovery about the origin of auroras borealis has created excitement among space scientists because it is believed that understanding the mechanism of acceleration of electrons that cause the phenomenon of lights in the sky, may be useful for future studies of space meteorology and the solar system.

Regarding the topic, the progress of science is countless and recently it has even come to hypothesize the presence of exolunas in the galaxy that could be habitable.