Auroras: Paintings in the Sky What do auroras look like?

Here are some pictures of auroras as seen from Earth.
     Can you tell...    

Where they are?

How big they are?

How far away they are?

What colors do you see?

Picture yourself outside on a clear dark night. Low on the horizon you notice a faint glow of greenish light which forms an arch, stretching lazily across the sky. As time passes, additional bands of light form and drift overhead, slowly brightening to form giant curtains in the sky that slowly wave as if a gentle breeze were blowing. Suddenly, the bottom of the curtains brighten with a reddish tint and ripple faster. Blues and purples appear. As the curtains pass directly overhead, you see bright points of light that swirl like a pinwheel. The entire sky seems to be full of color and motion. Then, after several minutes, everything fades into a warm green glow.

No two auroras are ever alike. Here are two QuickTime Movies of auroras. Auroras can look very different from one another. One is called a "corona" formation and the other a band or "curtain" form.*

get Quicktime movie
"Corona" 183 kb
get Quicktime movie
"Curtain" 183 kb

*Time has been compressed in these movies to make them load more quickly. Real auroras usually change more slowly.

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What Do Auroras Look Like? Listen to David Stern of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. To Listen to this clip you will need the RealAudio player.

What Makes them Happen?

Auroras home

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This page was last updated 6/19/01