The Aurora

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Science, Earth and Space Science

Grade 5- 8


Students will learn about the aurora lights.


The aurora borealis (northern lights) and aurora australis (southern lights) have been sources of myth since ancient times. These beautiful phenomena appear as thin veils of colored light, usually green, moving silently across the sky. Today, we know they result from disturbances in the magnetic field surrounding Earth (geomagnetic field). The disturbances are caused by interaction with the solar wind, a continuous flow of electrically charged particles from the sun. When there are many sunspots on the sun, increased particles are released and, thus, there is a brighter aurora. The aurora is usually visible only from latitudes near the geomagnetic poles but may be seen nearer the equator during times of peak sunspot activity. The aurora occurs in the upper atmosphere, usually 60-620 miles (97-1,000 km) above Earth.
Classroom Activity
Use the transparency Earth's Magnetic Tail to review information learned in the previous lesson.
Show the students pictures of aurora of Jupiter and Saturn.
Visit the Web site below as an introduction to the students. Explain that when people first saw these beautiful displays in the sky, they were afraid. Not knowing what caused them, they made up stories to explain these phenomena. Tour the spectacular photos and read the information on pages 1-4. If possible, use a large monitor to show the details.
The Aurora --
Tell students that they will visit a variety of Web sites to learn more. One site comes from the University of Alaska, near the North Geomagnetic Pole. Show where Fairbanks is located relative to the North Geomagnetic Pole.
Divide students into groups and give each a research card. Assign more students to the starred cards since they require a longer time to complete. Review the assignments and set a time to complete the research and prepare a presentation for the class.
Before presenting their information in the order of the cards, have each group meet with those presenting before and after them to coordinate and avoid repeating information provided by another group.
Have students write their own illustrated legend to explain the aurora and then add a summary of the scientific explanation they have learned.
Show the students the nine pages of aurora pictures at the following Web site.
Aurora Images --
Let students see the paintings of Canadian artist Glen Scrimshaw which were inspired by photographs of aurora. Have the students create their own aurora pictures.
Northern Lights Newest Image--


  • pictures of the aurora
  • Internet access
  • Aurora Research Cards
  • transparency of Earth's Poles and Earth's Magnetic Tail
  • Guide to Space: A Photographic Journey Through the Universe, by Peter Bond, Dorling Kindersley Publishing, Inc., 1999.

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