The northern lights — the swirling, cloud-like features in this image that stretched across the north of Canada, during the nighttime hours of Dec. 22, 2016. (Credit: Jesse Allen / NASA Earth Observatory)
The northern lights on a festive show over the north of Canada, just before Christmas, and a NASA satellite has captured a stunning infrared image of the spectacular display.
The night after the winter solstice, NASA’s Suomi NPP spacecraft included the northern lights, or aurora borealis, in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Nunavut, and the Northwest Territories in Canada on the night of Dec. 22. Of the 512 miles above the Earth, the satellite’s Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite caught in the northern lights, which appeared as glowing swirls of clouds above the north of Canada, NASA’s Earth Observatory said in a statement.
The northern lights occur when particles from the sun known as the solar wind interaction with the magnetic field of the Earth, according to NASA scientists. Because the particles are charged, they can lead to electrical current changes in the field that then send energetic particles into the upper layers of the atmosphere gases. When the particles hit the gases, that they are in charge, and as the gases release the energy, the aurora glows are activated.
As the gases give up energy, they release photons (particles of light) of specific wavelengths, creating different colors. For example, researchers have found that the oxygen atoms emit green and sometimes red light, while nitrogen is more orange or red. [Aurora Photos: See Breathtaking Views of the northern lights]
Although such solar wind events can happen anytime, the solar storms that create the most beautiful images of the northern lights occur roughly every 11 years, according to NASA researchers. The last cycle peak occurred in 2013, although NASA researchers reported that the solar maximum was the weakest observed in a century.
Original article on Live Science.