Global Geological And Climatic Events

Aurora Borealis: What are Northern and Southern lights? Why do they occur?


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Auroras and its types, Coronal Mass Ejections/ Solar Storm

Mains level: NA

Why in the news?

  • In a rare event, the night sky over Hanle village in Ladakh was illuminated by the northern lights or aurora borealis.
    • Concurrently, the southern lights, or aurora australis, were observed in New Zealand and Australia.

What are Auroras?

  • Auroras are natural light displays that appear as bright, swirling curtains in the night sky.
  • They are typically seen near the Poles but can occasionally be observed at lower latitudes.
  • These lights can display a range of colors, including blue, red, yellow, green, and orange, due to the interaction of solar particles with different gases in the Earth’s atmosphere.
  • The phenomenon is known as:
  1. Aurora borealis in Northern Hemisphere and
  2. Aurora australis in Southern Hemisphere

What causes Auroras?

  • Interaction with Earth’s Magnetic Field: As the solar wind approaches Earth, it interacts with the planet’s magnetic field, causing some charged particles to enter the atmosphere near the poles.
  • Interaction with Gases: These particles interact with gases in the upper atmosphere, producing colourful flashes of light. Collision with oxygen produces green light, while interaction with nitrogen results in shades of blue and purple.

Reasons for Aurora in Ladakh:

  • Intense Solar Activity: Auroras can extend to lower latitudes during periods of intense solar activity, such as solar flares and coronal mass ejections (CMEs).
    • The CMEs are from the AR13664 region of the sun that has produced several high-energy solar flares
  • Localized magnetic anomalies: Variations in Earth’s magnetic field could potentially influence the occurrence of auroras in specific areas, including regions at lower latitudes.

Impact on Tech Infrastructure 

  • Auroras can pose challenges to space-dependent technologies and operations.
  • Disruptions in Global Positioning Systems (GPS), radio communications, flight operations, power grids, and space exploration endeavors may occur during such events.


[2022] If a major solar storm (solar flare) reaches the Earth, which of the following are the possible effects on the Earth?

  1. GPS and navigation systems could fail.
  2. Tsunamis could occur at equatorial regions.
  3. Power grids could be damaged.
  4. Intense auroras could occur over much of the Earth.
  5. Forest fires could take place over much of the planet.
  6. Orbits of the satellites could be disturbed.
  7. Shortwave radio communication of the aircraft flying over Polar Regions could be interrupted.

Select the correct answer using the code given below:

(a) 1, 2, 4 and 5 only
(b) 2, 3, 5, 6 and 7 only
(c) 1, 3, 4, 6 and 7 only
(d) 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7


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