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Aurorae: Color and PerceptionThe Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) and Southern Lights (Aurora Australis) put on dazzling displays in the night skies. Some people are lucky enough to live where they can witness them with their own eyes, while others have to rely on images captured by photographers. Either way, what you are seeing is the result of energetic particles from the Sun colliding with atoms and molecules in the upper reaches of Earth’s atmosphere, in an area referred to as the thermosphere. Most of the activity happens between 80 and 500 kilometers (50 and 310 miles) above the planet’s surface.The various colors seen in auroral displays depend on what gets hit by the subatomic particles launched from the Sun. When the energetic solar particles slam into the thermosphere, they blast electrons off atoms and molecules. When those electrons recombine with the atoms and molecules, light gets emitted. The color is dependent on what is doing the emitting. Oxygen atoms yield green light at lower altitudes (100-150 km/62-93 mi) and red at higher altitudes (150-250 km/93-310 mi). Oxygen molecules give of blue light. Molecular nitrogen gives of light tending towards the deep red violet, and may even yield pink as a combinative effect. Nitrogen molecular ions can produce purple blue light at very high altitudes.Okay, so that’s what we see, but how do we see it, and how does what we see differ from what a camera’s sensors capture in an image of an aurora? For that, we’ll send you over to Taylor Photography, where Mike Taylor did a great write-up on that very subject.-JFImage credit: Mike Taylor - Taylor PhotographyHome: http://miketaylorphoto.com/Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/miketaylorphotoG+: https://plus.google.com/u/0/103061264201152866620/postsPinterest: http://pinterest.com/taylorphoto1/Sources: 1, 2 View high resolution

Aurorae: Color and Perception

The Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) and Southern Lights (Aurora Australis) put on dazzling displays in the night skies. Some people are lucky enough to live where they can witness them with their own eyes, while others have to rely on images captured by photographers. Either way, what you are seeing is the result of energetic particles from the Sun colliding with atoms and molecules in the upper reaches of Earth’s atmosphere, in an area referred to as the thermosphere. Most of the activity happens between 80 and 500 kilometers (50 and 310 miles) above the planet’s surface.

The various colors seen in auroral displays depend on what gets hit by the subatomic particles launched from the Sun. When the energetic solar particles slam into the thermosphere, they blast electrons off atoms and molecules. When those electrons recombine with the atoms and molecules, light gets emitted. The color is dependent on what is doing the emitting. Oxygen atoms yield green light at lower altitudes (100-150 km/62-93 mi) and red at higher altitudes (150-250 km/93-310 mi). Oxygen molecules give of blue light. Molecular nitrogen gives of light tending towards the deep red violet, and may even yield pink as a combinative effect. Nitrogen molecular ions can produce purple blue light at very high altitudes.

Okay, so that’s what we see, but how do we see it, and how does what we see differ from what a camera’s sensors capture in an image of an aurora? For that, we’ll send you over to Taylor Photography, where Mike Taylor did a great write-up on that very subject.

-JF

Image credit: Mike Taylor - Taylor Photography
Home: http://miketaylorphoto.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/miketaylorphoto
G+: https://plus.google.com/u/0/103061264201152866620/posts
Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/taylorphoto1/

Sources: 1, 2

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