Aurora Alive logoAURORA links

  • Asahi Aurora Classroom
    Frequently Asked Questions about the Aurora like, "What is the aurora? What causes the aurora? Where can we see the aurora?" with Answers by Dr. Syun-ichi Akasofu - Asahi Aurora Classroom

  • Aurora Forecast and Alert Service
    Daily forecast inactive during summer months when the night sky is too bright to view the aurora in the northern latitudes, but the alert service is year-around - UAF Geophysical Institute

Suggesting reading

  • The Amazing Northern Lights, by Syun-Ichi Akasofu
  • The Aurora Watcher's Handbook, by Neil Davis
  • Aurora Bibliography and links collected by the Geophysical Institute's Mather Library

  • For Teachers: Light Shows in the Night Sky: Auroras, by Donna Walsh Shepherd and
    The Sun: Living With the Stormy Star, in National Geographic Magazine, July 2004

Frequently asked questions about Aurora Alive:

I'm not a teacher. Is the DVD something I would enjoy?
Yes! The Aurora Alive™ DVD includes movies, voice-over text, clickable navigation, interactive elements and more to make it enjoyable for people of all ages and backgrounds. Discover what causes the Northern Lights, where they can best be seen and why, how scientists predict the aurora, which planets in our solar system have auroras, and more!

How was the Aurora Alive™ program developed?
Aurora Alive™ is the result of a collaboration that included input from aurora physicists & curriculum specialists at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Geophysical Institute and International Arctic Research Center, and rural Alaska middle-school teachers, students, and community Elders. Program development was funded by the U.S. Department of Education.

How are proceeds from Aurora Alive™ sales utilized?
Proceeds from Aurora Alive™ DVD and Lesson Manual sales are used to facilitate and enhance the curriculum in participating Alaska schools.

What educational standards does Aurora Alive™ meet?
The Aurora Alive™ curriculum, which includes both the DVD and the associated classroom lessons, meets National Science, Math, and Language Arts Standards, State of Alaska Standards for Culturally Responsive Schools and Alaska Content Standards. A list of standards met by each lesson is included in the Aurora Alive™ Lesson Manual.

Has Aurora Alive™ been field-tested in the classroom? What were the results?
Aurora Alive™ was field-tested in Northwest Arctic Borough School District middle schools. The program was so successful during the first year of implementation, the district made Aurora Alive™ part of their required middle-school science curriculum. Student interest in science has soared. Today, the curriculum is being implemented in rural schools throughout Alaska.

What system requirements are required for me to view Aurora Alive™ on my computer?
The DVD runs on Windows XP, Windows Vista, and Macintosh OSX operating systems; and requires a computer with a DVD drive and at least 128MB or RAM.

Frequently asked aurora questions from students and teachers:

What causes the aurora?
The aurora is caused by a powerful electrical discharge in the sky, similar to lightning. High-energy electrons generated by the discharge hit atoms and molecules in the upper atmosphere, which give off light. The auroral discharge is far more powerful than lightning. -- Asahi Aurora Classroom, UAF Geophysical Institute

I know the aurora in the northern hemisphere is called the aurora borealis, but what is the aurora called in the southern hemisphere?
The aurora in the southern hemisphere is called the aurora australis. Interestingly, the aurora australis is almost a mirror image of the aurora borealis. -- Lori Schoening, Aurora Alive Education Specialist

Where can the aurora borealis be seen?
The aurora borealis can be seen best along the belt that connects central Alaska, the Great Slave Lakes (Yellowknife) in Canada, the southern timp of Greenland, Iceland, and the northern tip of Scandinavia. -- Asahi Aurora Classroom, UAF Geophysical Institute

Intense auroras can be seen in the continental U.S., particularly in the north, when solar activity is high. -- Aurora Information Sheet, UAF Geophysical Institute

When is the best time to see the aurora?
The aurora is likely to be visible from September to March and especially around the time of the equinoxes (September 21 and March 21). The spring months of January through April are often the best time to view the aurora because of better weather, however fall can be just as cooperative weather-wise. Best viewing time is at 1:30 a.m. daylight-saving time in Alaska's time zone. From mid-August through the beginning of May, weekly forecasts of auroral activity can be accessed through the UAF Geophysical Institute's Web site at -- Neal Brown, Assistant Professor of Physics and Aurora Alive Professional Development Instructor

Is the aurora harmful?
The aurora can cause a variety of problems. It can disrupt radio communications, damage satellites, and disrupt power stations and power lines resulting in power outages. The high-enery electrons that produce the aurora may be hazardous to astronauts in space so they should remain in the spacecraft when it flies through an aurora. Here on earth's surface we are safe. We live and travel in only the first 14km (8 miles) of Earth's atmosphere, nearly 100km (60 miles) below the aurora. Because of the protective role of the atmosphere, the aurora and the high-energy electrons that produce it (under normal conditions) pose no known health risks, such as those from radiation or electric shock. -- Asahi Aurora Classroom, UAF Geophysical Institute

Can an airplane fly through the aurora?
No. The lower edge of the auroral curtain is 60 to 70 miles above Earth, which is about ten times higher than a jet aircraft flies. -- Aurora Information Sheet, UAF Geophysical Institute

What causes the different colors of the aurora?
Auroral color depends on the type of atoms and molecules struck by the energetic particles that rain down along Earth's magnetic field lines in the discharge process. Earth atmospheric gas glows with a specific color. For instance, green is produced by oxygen atoms at roughly 60 miles altitude. -- Aurora Information Sheet, UAF Geophysical Institute

Is it true that Earth's magnetic field could disappear within the next 1,000 years?
No. As long as Earth has a liquid core we will have a magnetic field, and Earth will have a liquid core for a few billion years to come. -- Dirk Lummerzheim, Aurora Alive Scienctist Mentor

Is it true that, without a stable magnetic field, Earth would not have northern or southern lights (aurora)?
That is, in fact, the case. If the magnetic field were to get weak and unstable, and lose its dipole structure, we also would lose the present magnetosphere. Then, we would not have the processes that shape and make the aurora as we know it. Instead, we would have the solar wind interacting with the upper atmosphere or remaining unstructured magnetosphere. This would still produce aurora, but that aurora would look very different from today's aurora. It woud endeed be everywhere, but it would be dim and diffuse, not the exciting curtains we see nowadays. There is an example of this happening in our own solar system on Venus. Venus has no magnetic field, but a nice, thick atmosphere. The aurora there is so weak that only the most sensitive instruments can see any of it at all. So, if we have just a little bit of a magnetic field, we would have aurora somewhere between the Venusian aurora (almost non-existent) and the spectacular Earth aurora. -- Dirk Lummerzheim, Aurora Alive Scienctist Mentor

Are Earth's magnetic poles going to shift soon?
In the history of Earth, the magnetic field often has reversed direction. Over the last 4 million years there have been 13 documented reversals. They tend to happen either right after one another, or at fairly large time intervals. Many reverslas have about 300,000 to 500,000 years in between, but several only have about 50,000 years in between. The last one was about 700,000 years ago, so you might think we are due for another one.

Nobody really knows how such a reversal is going to happen, or how long it is going to take. Some theories predict that it would take about 1,000 years to switch from one direction to the opposite. Some theories predict that the magnetic field will get weak, almost go away, and eventually pop up again, and maybe do this many times over a period of 1,000 years. In that case, the whole process of reversal also would take 1,000 years, but that millenium would almost be without a field, or at least with a very variable and chaotic field. -- Dirk Lummerzheim, Aurora Alive Scienctist Mentor

Is it true that within the next thirty years the aurora will disappear...a student's mom said she heard it on the discovery channel or the news?
I believe this story is based on an American Geophysical Union contribution from a physicist working in paleo-magnetic field. He had studied the ancient history of Earth's magnetic field and compared that to contemporary observations. From that he draws the conclusion that the current movement of the dip-pole is likely to continue. This would place the dip-pole, which is currently in northern Canada and moving north-east, close to the Siberian coast in about 50-100 years.

As you know from the Aurora Alive, there is a difference between the dip pole (where the magnetic field is vertical at the surface of Earth) and the dipole pole, which is the one that the aurora cares about. Historical evidence shows that the dipole pole also moves whenever the dip-pole moves, so it is likely that the dipole will also move towards the NE, but at a slower pace and not as far. The aurora would thus only move slowly towards the north in Alaska. That means that in 100 years, instead of having the most probable auroral occurance over Ft Yukon, it would be over the Brooks Range or Barrow or something like that. -- Dirk Lummerzheim, Aurora Alive Scienctist Mentor