How do Polar Lights Form?
High-speed energetic particles collide with atoms in the Earth's atmosphere anywhere at a height of about 50 miles to several hundred miles above the Earth's surface, causing polar lights. Such high-velocity particles are usually electrons originating in space, particularly solar wind.
When electrons from space strike an atom or molecule in the Earth's atmosphere, they provide an increase in energy, giving an electron in the atom. Scientifically, the electron jumps to a high energy level and the atom is in an excited state.
After a while, the electron in the excited atom returns to the original low energy level before it reaches the high energy level. This energy is released as light that causes auroral luminescence. This process is the same mechanism due to the emission line spectrum, and the aurora-polar lights are the emission line spectrum phenomena of atoms in the Earth's upper atmosphere.
The color of the emission line spectrum depends on the chemical composition and the type of each atom produces its own unique color pattern. Therefore, color distributions in auroral images, ie polar lights, are due to different elements in the Earth's atmosphere.
Oxygen molecules cause green aurora and oxygen atoms are red. Blue auroral images are a result of nitrogen molecules. Molecular nitrogen and oxygen are the most common components of the Earth's atmosphere, so these colors are the most common auroral colors.
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