An aurora sometimes referred to as polar lights, northern lights (aurora borealis) or southern lights (aurora australis), is a natural light display in the Earth's sky, predominantly seen in the high-latitude regions (around the Arctic and Antarctic).

Auroras are produced when the magnetosphere is sufficiently disturbed by the solar wind that the trajectories of charged particles in both solar wind and magnetospheric plasma, mainly in the form of electrons and protons, precipitate them into the upper atmosphere (thermosphere/exosphere) due to Earth's magnetic field, where their energy is lost.

The resulting ionization and excitation of atmospheric constituents emits light of varying color and complexity. The form of the aurora, occurring within bands around both polar regions, is also dependent on the amount of acceleration imparted to the precipitating particles. Precipitating protons generally produce optical emissions as incident hydrogen atoms after gaining electrons from the atmosphere. Proton auroras are usually observed at lower latitudes.

visual forms and colors

Auroras frequently appear either as a diffuse glow or as "curtains" that extend approximately in the east-west direction. At some times, they form "quiet arcs"; at others, they evolve and change constantly. These are called "active aurora".

The most distinctive and brightest are the curtain-like auroral arcs. Each curtain consists of many parallel rays, each lined up with the local direction of the magnetic field, consistent with auroras being shaped by Earth's magnetic field. In situ particle measurements confirm that auroral electrons are guided by the geomagnetic field, and spiral around them while moving toward Earth. The similarity of an auroral display to curtains is often enhanced by folds within the arcs. Arcs can fragment or break up into separate, at times rapidly changing, often rayed features that may fill the whole sky. These are the discrete auroras, which are at times bright enough to read a newspaper by at night and can display rapid subsecond variations in intensity. The diffuse aurora, though, is a relatively featureless glow sometimes close to the limit of visibility. It can be distinguished from moonlit clouds because stars can be seen undiminished through the glow. Diffuse auroras are often composed of patches whose brightness exhibits regular or near-regular pulsations. The pulsation period can be typically many seconds, so is not always obvious. Often there black aurora i.e. narrow regions in diffuse aurora with reduced luminosity. A typical auroral display consists of these forms appearing in the above order throughout the night.

source: wikipedia