The Northern Lights – A Magic Light Display

For thousands of years people in the northern part of the world have marveled at the spectacular and fearful displays that occasionally light up the night sky. The Norwegian scientist Kristian Birkeland, 1867-1917 was the first explain the real cause – that particles from the Sun were sparking the Northern Lights. To prove his theory—which is still valid today–he built his own small world in a glass box, electrified his model of Earth with its own magnetic field and showed how particles from the Sun could ignite auroras. The particles were captured by the Earth’s magnetic field and channeled down toward the Polar Regions.

Kristian Birkeland with his Terella experiment. The metal sphere was his model Earth, while the vacuum glass container was space. When Birkeland sent particles toward the sphere, the Polar Regions glowed.  Credit: University of Oslo.

Kristian Birkeland with his Terella experiment. The metal sphere was his model Earth, while the vacuum glass container was space. When Birkeland sent particles toward the sphere, the Polar Regions glowed. Credit: University of Oslo.

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