Difference between Northern Lights and Southern Lights

Key Difference: Both the Northern Lights and Southern Lights are types of Auroras. The only difference between the Northern Lights and Southern Lights is that the Northern Lights occur at the North Pole, while the Southern Lights occur at the South Pole.

The Northern Lights and Southern Lights appear to be nature’s miracles. People from all around the world travel thousands of miles to see these miracles with their own eyes. Both the Northern Lights and Southern Lights are types of Auroras. In fact, the scientific name for the Northern Lights is ‘Aurora Borealis’, while the scientific name for the Southern Lights is ‘Aurora Australis’.

The name Aurora is the name of the Roman goddess of dawn. As the lights look like approaching dawn, they were named after the goddess of dawn. The name Borealis is the Greek name for the north wind, hence denoting that it occurs in the north, while the name Australis is the Latin word meaning ‘of the South’ or ‘Southern’.

While, the Northern Lights and Southern Lights appear to be nature’s miracles, there is a very straightforward and scientific reasoning for the aurora. The Aurora occurs when cosmic rays, solar wind and magnetospheric plasma interact with the upper atmosphere.

In layman’s terms, the sun is known for its sunspots. During these sunspots, the sun expels solar matter, also known as solar plasma or solar winds into the universe. Some of these solar winds make it to Earth. However, these winds are the temperature of the sun, which is over a thousand times hotter than the Earth and the matter travels at very fast speeds. Hence, to protect the planet, the Earth’s atmosphere, which is primarily made up of oxygen and nitrogen atoms, absorbs the heat from the solar wind when the particles collide with the oxygen and nitrogen atoms. This impact and the heat put the atoms in an excited state. When these atoms come back to their normal state, they release the excessive energy in the form of visible photons. These photons are what we see and name as the Northern Lights and Southern Lights.

The Northern Lights and Southern Lights tend to occur around the Earth’s magnetic poles, hence the Northern and Southern, i.e. the North Pole and the South Pole. The magnetic pull brings the photons to lower latitudes, hence making it further visible. The Northern Lights are most commonly visible from Canada, Alaska, Greenland, Northern Russia, and Northern Scandinavia. While, the Southern Lights can be seen in Antarctica, South America, New Zealand, and Australia.

What’s surprising is that the Aurora phenomenon is not exclusive to Earth. The lights can be seen on any and all planets that have magnetic poles. In fact, similar to Earth, these auroras come in a myriad of different colors, such as but not limited to red, green, yellow, pink, purple, blue, as well as ultraviolet and infrared, which are not visible to the naked eye. These colors occur depending on the atoms that are releasing the photons. The most common is the green aurora, which is due to the participation of the oxygen atom.

Comparison between Northern Lights and Southern Lights:

 

Northern Lights

Southern Lights

Scientific Name

Aurora Borealis

Aurora Australis

Named after

Named after the Roman goddess of dawn, Aurora, and the Greek name for the north wind, Boreas, by Galileo in 1619.

Named after the Roman goddess of dawn, Aurora, and the Latin word for Southern, australis.

Type

Aurora

Aurora

Location

high latitude Arctic region

high latitude Antarctic region

Visible from

Canada, Alaska, Greenland, Northern Russia, and Northern Scandinavia

Antarctica, South America, New Zealand, and Australia.

Cause

Cosmic rays, solar wind and magnetospheric plasma interacting with the upper atmosphere

Cosmic rays, solar wind and magnetospheric plasma interacting with the upper atmosphere

Colors

Pink, green, yellow, blue, violet, and occasionally orange and white.

Pink, green, yellow, blue, violet, and occasionally orange and white.

Image Courtesy: mightyfinecompany.com, higherdensity.wordpress.com

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