Aurora Northern Lights: The Most Amazing Thing You'll Ever See

Northern lights above a beach in Norway

The aurora northern lights in Norway

No matter what your interests, hobbies, job, gender, race and age; no matter who you are and whether you’re interested in science or not… the most amazing thing you’ll ever see is the aurora. There are spectacles that come close: your baby’s first steps, sunrise on the gulf of Thailand, the first time you see a girl’s boobs up close (for free), or your dog dragging his arse across the living room carpet. But short of erupting volcanoes, oncoming tornadoes and meteor showers, the most amazing thing you’ll ever see is the aurora. And how could it not be?

The aurora looks very much like the gentle rippling of otherworldly greens, pinks, reds and even purples across the deep night sky: like some alien abstract artist swishing radioactive water paint across a black canvas. These colours stream and pulse, shimmer and crackle, swell and fade and ebb and flow. Watching the aurora lights must be the ultimate exercise in escapism. It must be impossible to imagine that you’re still on planet Earth with a view shown in the picture above and below. Not even Arthur C. Clark could paint – with words – a more vivid picture of a totally alien landscape.

Northern lights above lagoon in Iceland

The aurora lights glimmer and stream over a lagoon in Iceland

Is there anything more beautiful, more breath-taking and more enchanting? I wouldn’t know… I’ve never seen the aurora. But if the pictures and YouTube videos are anything to go by, I can’t even begin to imagine what it must be like to stand underneath a canopy of those shimmering ethereal lights. It would probably blow my fragile mind and break my tender heart.

So, What Are The Aurorae?

Contrary to the myths surrounding the aurora, this phenomenon is not your ancestors jiving across the sky, nor is it some kind of luminous bridge into the other world. Our ancient counterparts do, however, earn themselves an ‘A+’ for imagination and also for the foresight to invent the wheel. That has turned out to be kinda useful.

The Aurora is caused by the Sun rudely belching its charged gassy particles all over Earth’s outer atmosphere. This may sound horribly uncouth, but it is a most appropriate metaphor for the physical reality. Let’s take a closer look at the Sun… the long-winded explanation if you will.

Har har.

 Some Alka-Seltzer for the Sun, Please

Beautiful close up of sun

Solar flares erupt from the Sun’s raging photosphere

The Sun is a star. And like all stars, its incredible mass causes unending catastrophic nuclear reactions in its hellish interior. Convection – great currents of outward bound surges of intense heat – transports mass to the surface of the Sun from its molten interior. As you can imagine, the surface of the Sun is anything but Swan Lake. It’s an intense bubbling conflagration of scalding heat.

Great bubbles of burning gas ride these convection currents like the turtles ride the East Australian Current in Finding Nemo and, in a prodigious release of energy, blast out of the Sun’s photosphere. This eruption of energy is known as a solar flare and it is a truly devastating phenomenon that can represent a staggering 17% of the Sun’s entire energy output per second… that’s approximately 600,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 joules of energy, give or take a joule.

The flares that erupt out of the Sun’s sexy corona (not beer) belch out obscene clouds of electrons and charged atoms, which stream out into space and collide with anything and everything in their path. Sometimes that anything and everything is our humble little planet.

Earth's magnetic shield solar flare

Diagram: Solar flare activity and its effect on the Earth. The circular lines surrounding the sun-facing side of our planet represent our magnetic field and how it shields us from much of the incoming solar radiation.

Even though our tiny blue planet lies 15 billion kilometres (93 million miles) away, the streams of charged particles emitted by the Sun still reach us and they do so typically within a day or two of a solar flare occurring. This incomprehensible distance represents a leisurely stroll in the park for solar radiation, which doesn’t only consist of the light we perceive as daytime, but rather the entire electromagnetic spectrum, from high energy gamma rays (dangerous) right through to sluggishly slow and lazy radio waves (not dangerous).

These charged particles slap against the outer reaches of our atmosphere, which can damage the little microchips in satellites, disrupt power grids, interfere with radio signals and… *drumroll* cause the sky to incandesce with beautiful otherworldly lights!

Northern Sweden - Northern Lights Aurora

A Charged Particle Walks into a Bar…

Charged particles from the Sun smack into the gas molecules that make up our atmosphere, exciting their electrons into higher energy orbits. Don’t worry, I won’t be testing you on this later. When these electrons have had a chance to chill out, they sink back into their normal orbits, releasing the excess energy they had in the form of light.

In plain English: A charged particle from the Sun walks into a bar and straight up to an oxygen atom. It smacks oxygen right in the gob, enraging oxygen which, as a result of its excited state, goes bright green with anger at the impudence of this charged solar particle. If the molecular victim in this analogy was nitrogen, it would have glowed red or blue.

Sunrise over planet Earth.

On a vast scale of thousands of square kilometres, the effects of charged solar particles walking into zillions of bars and smacking zillions of oxygen molecules in the faces is staggeringly beautiful. And in spite of the violence of it all, the resultant visual spectacle looks like gentle waves of brilliant light caressing the night sky.

This mechanism may sound horribly confusing, but just because I used “charged” and “particle” in the same sentence doesn’t mean that comprehension is totally beyond you. In fact, we are surrounded by examples of the very same mechanism that cause the aurorae. Neon is a gas and when its atoms are excited, they too incandesce and emit a powerful glow. In the case of neon lights, the source of excitement is electricity.

Hotel neon sign

Aurora Borealis, Aurora Australis

You may have heard of either, but they are essentially the same thing. Australis means “southern” in Latin – think Australia or Australopithecus, “southern man,” our earliest ancestor who was thusly dubbed because his (or her) crumbly ancient remains were discovered in southern African soil.

Borealis means “northern.” So if you live in or visit the icy clutches of the extreme north, in the countries bordering on the Arctic Ocean, you stand a chance of witnessing the Aurora Borealis, while those in the extreme southern latitudes, the Aurora Australis.

Class Dismissed: Your Take-Home Message

The biggest challenge I’ve faced in writing this has been to choose the correct words to convey the sheer otherworldly beauty of the aurorae. If I haven’t done this phenomenal phenomenon the full justice it deserves, then the following video of the aurora borealis definitely will. Isn’t it the most amazing thing you’ve ever seen? (No offence to the first pair of boobs you ever saw).

Video Source: “Spectacular Norway Northern Lights” uploaded by National Geographic on YouTube channel https://youtu.be/izYiDDt6d8s

The Earth Has Indigestion! Awesome Volcano Footage

For those who struggle with gastric reflux, indigestion and heart burn, the Earth provides some comforting empathy. Check out these three AMAZING videos of volcanoes wreaking havoc upon the local biology:

Volcanic Eruption in Papua New Guinea

Video Source: “Volcanic Eruption in Papua New Guinea” by Phil McNamara and uploaded to the YouTube Channel at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2XlDa3WxVJ0

This intense clip was captured on August 29th, 2014, when Mount Tavurvur on Papua New Guinea finally blew its lid, sending an incredible shockwave into the atmosphere and into the ocean vessel the filmmaker was riding!

Pyroclastic Flow Followed by Series of Tornados (Sweet Jesus!)

Video Source: “Pyroclastic Flow Followed by Series of Tornados” uploaded by Photovolcanica on YouTube channel http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tzbIdE51jcg

In this amazing science video, the pyroclastic flow off Mount Sinabung volcano (North Sumatra, Indonesia) leaves behind a trail of superheated material, which then generates incredibly strong convection currents. These begin spinning vertically due to the speed with which the air is rising and the result is like salt in the wound of an already decimated landscape: TORNADOS!

Nature’s Fireworks: The Five Most Spectacular Volcanic Eruptions of Recent Years

Video Source: “Nature’s Fireworks: The Five Most Spectacular Volcanic Eruptions of Recent Years” uploaded by Zoomin.TV Science on YouTube channel http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R15iePGcFYE

The title pretty much gives away the content of the film, so go ahead and enjoy these five catastrophically seismic events! It’s a visual feast.

 

Epic Rap Battles: Albert Einstein Versus Stephen Hawkins

I’ve never been a huge fan of rap, but the boys who bring us “Epic Rap Battles of History” have revolutionized my opinion of this music genre!

In this awesome sciencey video, watch Albert Einstein tear shreds out of Steven Hawkins and Hawkins give Einstein a tongue-lashing of truly EPIC proportions. It’s absolutely hilarious and probably the most warped history/science lesson you’ll ever sit down to!

Artist: Epic Rap Battles of History
Featured Artists: Nice Peter, MC Mr. Napkins
Released: 2011
YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zn7-fVtT16k

Hot Damn, Your Weekend Reading!

Easter fail awkward

If the prospect of a long weekend with the extended family (including dodgy uncles and nattering aunts) sends your brain spiralling into shut-down, better take this reading list with you! Our combination of scintillating videos, laugh-out-loud science jokes and thought-provoking blogs will keep your mind sharp and ready to metabolise your father’s verbal diarrhoea.

Here’s what you can look forward to…

Science Blog Roll

The Placebo Effect: Learn about this fascinating phenomenon as it influences our physical well-being in the total absence of any legitimate treatment.

Ode to Wine: Wine, glorious wine! In this funny science blog, we explore the chemistry and alchemy that goes into the making of our favourite social lubricant.

All Things Bright and Beautiful, Evolution Made Them All: Need I say more? Evolution is the mechanism by which life on Earth is able to change, adapt and diversify.

 Amazing/Interesting/Fascinating Science Videos

baffled boxer dog picture

Epic Rap Battles of History # 4: Technology giants Bill Gates and Steve Jobs go rhyme-to-rhyme in this amazing science video taken from the hilarious Epic Rap Battles of History.

 

The 10 Most Unreal Places on Earth: Take a journey through Earth’s 10 most surreal landscapes and unreal places, from a pink lake in Australia to the mammoth crystal caverns of Mexico. The is a MUST-SEE.

TED Talks with Adam Savage: One half of the genius behind Discovery’s “Mythbusters” spends a few minutes explaining how some of history’s most profound discoveries were made with just a spoonful of rationality, for example, the circumference of the Earth.

Driving Instructors Get Epically Pranked by Nerd Girl: If you have a thing for nerd girls, hard core female race drivers or watching innocent people get epically pranked, this video is for you! It had me in stitches.

When Earth and Space Collide: A Compilation of Meteor Footage – Need we say more? Actual footage of meteors, meteorites and one hypothetical scenario involving major asteroid impact. You WILL be entertained.

Meteor asteroid picture

50 Orgasms a Day Has Girl on Her Knees in Pain: Meet the sufferers of a rare medical disorder that has them experiencing persistent and powerful sexual arousal and orgasm. What, at first, sounds pretty awesome turns out to be horrifying.

World’s Largest Cave Revealed: Take a journey through the world’s largest and most spectacular cave (Hang Son Doong, Vietnam) on the back of a remote controlled drone.

10 Amazing Photographs That’ll Blow Your Mind: 10 Amazing photographs of Earth and nature that you’ve probably never seen before, from the tongue under the microscope to a massive dust storm from the safety of the ocean. Prepare to “ooh” and “aah!”

Beautiful Black hole

Daily Dose of Funny Science

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HAPPY EASTER WEEKEND!!

Why? Because Science Update

It’s that time of the week again! Time to reflect on the sheer genius that’s come to pass this week. Here’s a fresh blog roll, new and awesome science videos and some nerdy jokes…

Blog Roll

Yo-Mama-Toilet-Roll

Blog Post: Titanium – A whimsical look at the mega useful metal titanium, which is not only a great metaphor for emotional resilience, it’s also used to make dental implants, space shuttle and pro sporting equipment.

Blog Post: Fire and Brimstone – the Story of Volcanoes – When the Earth gets indigestion, interesting things happen to the local biology. Learn about the fiery personalities of volcanoes!

Massive exploding volcano

Blog Post: Goodness, Gracious Great Balls of Ice! The Story of Hail – Learn about the dynamics of hail formation and the incredible feats of douchbaggery severe thunderstorms are capable of.

Blog Post: All Things Bright and Beautiful – Evolution Made Them All! The driving force behind Earth’s amazing biological diversity is evolution. Read about the theory that pissed off the entire world and then went on to save it from ignorance.

Amazing Sciencey Videos

Amazing Science Video: Glacier in Time Lapse Film – Glaciers are huge rivers of ice that – as locked and immobile as they may seem – are actually in constant motion driven by immense forces of gravity. This video shows the Mont Blanc glacier (Italy) moving as captured on a time lapse camera, which is AWESOME.

Neil DeGrasse Tyson Tackles Pointed Religious Question – In a moment that will make you want to high-five the nearest available hand, intellectual giant Neil deGrasse Tyson tangoes with a religious zealot.

Niel deGrasse Tyson

Amazing Science Video: Volcanic Eruptions On Camera – Massive eruptions, sonic booms, pyroclastic flows and volcano tornadoes… if you find natural disasters sexy (from a safe distance), these three videos will definitely get your rocks off.

Amazing Hailstorm Videos – Hail is formed by severe thunderstorms and can range in size from super tiny pellets, which sound as though a mouse is tap-dancing on your roof, to massive grapefruits that plough straight THROUGH your roof. In this collection of three videos, we see just how large hailstones give tornadoes a run for their money in terms of the damage they can do.

Massive hail stone

The Lion Whisperer: Do NOT Try This on Safari – This CBS documentary short is about animal behaviourist and “lion whisperer” Kevin Richardson who has managed to integrate himself into a pride of beautiful lions, including majestic full-grown males. He hugs their massive heads, scratches their chins and rough-and-tumbles with them like he is one of them and yet, displays no more fear than if he were playing with his own pet dogs.

Semi-Frozen Slushy Waves Roll Ashore in New England – This video shows a series of images of ocean waves breaking on the shores of Nantucket in New England (northeast USA), only, there seems to be something distinctly different about these waves! They’re slightly frozen and so they look like giant slushy or “slurpee” waves!

frozen-ice-slush-waves-nantucket-jonathan-nimerfroh-2

Amazing Science Video: Orang-utan Behaving Like Human It’s getting hot in here, so soak a rag in your pond, wring it out and dab your face with it. Yes… it’s an orange-tan being super smart and humany.

Clouds of Hummingbirds Fed by Hand! This is just too darn precious!

Could This Be Evidence of Aliens and Other Unidentified Creatures? This video is a compilation of some pretty spooky images and video footage of unidentified creatures, hybrid animals and perhaps even aliens. It certainly raises questions as to whether or not we really know of all the animals we share this planet with and whether – by necessity – some large creatures have actually adapted to go virtually undetected by us.

hybrid animal cryptozoology

Sciencey LOL’s

Funny science pictures, memes and jokes to make you snort your morning coffee.

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Daily Dose of Funny Science: Beards 

The Scientific Method in Memes

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Monday Morning Tonic: For the Depressed, Hung Over and Uninspired

Monday’s are crappy for most people. Here to alleviate the crushing depression of being back at your desk or behind the wheel, here’s your weekly Why? Because Science reading material!

nerd-reading-book science

Science Blog Posts

Ebola Virus Apocalypse – It’s All Fun and Games Until Someone Sneezes: Discover how the terrifying Ebola virus has claimed thousands of lives as it tears its way across West Africa, blithely ignoring attempts at containment.

The 6 Most Awesome Rock Minerals (For Various Reasons), PART 1: Beautiful diamonds, fluorescing fluorspar and fool’s gold: learn about the wonderful properties of these most amazing rock minerals in this funny science blog.

The 6 Most Awesome Rock Minerals (For Various Reasons), PART 2: We’re back for more! In the second installment, we explore absurd obsidian, bipolar magnetite and opulent opal.

Enlightening: The shocking and fascinating physics behind lightning and thunder explained in a way that even the most devoted of cretins can understand.

Can You Speak Whale? Is there rhyme or reason to whale song? Both, actually! Discover the science of whale song and the difference between the ocean’s mysticeti singers and odontoceti rappers.

Can you speak whale

Amazing (and Funny and Creepy) Science Videos

Dolphins Blowing Extraordinary Bubbles: Toroidal bubbles are the best thing to happen since the movie Finding Nemo. Watch dolphins and whales producing these amazing bubbles for business and pleasure.

10 Ghosts Caught on Camera: Physical evidence of the afterlife? Watch 10 spooky videos of supposedly real ghost footage. Some scenarios may look staged, but others certainly make the hair rise!

Hummingbird Snoring: You’d better believe it. This real video of a tiny hummingbird peeping in its sleep will have grown, burly men squealing like little girls with sheer delight.

TED Talks – Nature’s Grossest Creature a Master of Motion: From the mad mind of a brilliant engineer comes a robot inspired by the incredible motor capabilities of nature’s most horrible little critter: the cockroach.

Lightning in Slow Motion: This spectacular video is not only a visual feast; it also holds the secrets to the precise physics of lightning. If you’re a science nerd like me, you’ll be braingasming all over your computer in five short minutes.

Drunk History – The Invention of Coca Cola: The first half of Drunk History’s explanation of the invention of our favourite soft drink, which is pure alchemy (hence its appearance on a science blog).

Today’s Biology Lesson – A Talking Squirrel: This video is the visual equation of cuteness cubed. The feelings of squish you’ll feel after watching it will increase exponentially with every viewing, so click replay at least three times!

Cute little talking squirrel

Sciencey LOL’s: Funny Science Memes and Pictures

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Your Weekend Brain Food

Brain-food-list

I would like to think that the kind of people who enjoy Why? Because Science also enjoy a good glass of wine or seven over the weekend. I imagine that during the week, you’re all hard-working and hard-reading folk, but that the weekends turn you into debauched, raging party animals with an insatiable appetite for pole-dancing, vodka and name-soiling.

Oh wait, that’s me!

Regardless of your weekend shenanigans, however, what we should all do is be sure to keep our brains stimulated and happy and what better way to do that than reading blogs and watching videos that are educational AND funny.

FUNNY… did you get that? Most people tune out the minute they hear the word “educational.” What a terrible, terrible word. So, without further ado, here’s your weekend brain food my dear readers! Happy Friday!

Beautiful sexy girl drinking

Blog Posts

It’s Just Not Natural! Actually, being gay totally is! With more than 1,500 animal species in which homosexuality is well documented, being queer is not only fabulous, it’s totally natural!

How to Bake a DiamondLearn how to make your very own diamonds in this funny science blog with ingredients that include carbon, a shovel, patience and a degree in town planning.

Who You Gonna Call? Ghostbusters! What does science have to say about the existence of ghosts and should we believe the “evidence” put forward by shows like Ghosthunters? I know, dumb question, but this blog provides the sciencey answers.

Scary real ghost picture

Amazing Science Videos: Funny, Spell-binding, AWESOME

Eddie Izzard – Death Star CanteenEven Darth Vader has to eat, and so logically the Death Star would have had a canteen… or at least that’s the reckoning of comedian Eddie Izzard in this hilariously funny video with animated lego.

Fire in the Sky! National Geographic filmmakers Claus and Anneliese Possberg put together this outstanding time lapse video showing the aurora borealis (northern lights) dancing and crackling across the evening sky in Norway.

A Drunk History of Benjamin FranklinIf you found your own history lessons at school mind-numbingly boring (who didn’t?) then this epic and inebriated telling of the story of Benjamin Franklin’s kite experiment will have you paying attention like never before. Features funny actor Jack Black.

TED Talks: New Research Stops Bleeding ImmediatelyMedical inventor and a fellow of TED Joe Landolina explains his amazing innovation, which is a gel that can instantly stop bleeding in even life-threatening arterial wounds. Gross, but awesome demonstration!

Epic Rap Battles of History: Thomas Edison Vs. Nikola Tesla: Giants of science and industry, Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla, verbally battle it out to a sick beat. In the end, you get to decide who wins!

Epic rap battles of history

Sciencey LOLs

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Previously on Why? Because Science!

… said in the voice of Survivor host, Jeff Probst.

Blog Roll

Click on the blue titles to expand your grey matter and blow your mind. Also, don’t forget to check out the new WBS at Fusion Viral Video!

Hasta La Vista HangoverIs it possible to prevent a hangover? According to science, it may be! Find out what the right mitigative techniques are and you could survive your 20’s.

How to prevent a hangover

We Are Star People: How did the very atoms of our body come to be made from the guts of exploded stars? Find out why we are STAR people!

Scientology: It’s Not the Study of ScienceRead about the cult (calling itself a religion) that’s terrifying the crap out of Katy Holmes. Discovery the hilarity of scientology, the Space Opera and megalomaniacal science-fiction writer, Mr. L. Ron Hubbard. 

Tom-Cruise-retains-his-pride-in-the-Hollywood

What’s In A Name? Bad Science, That’s WhatThe bad science behind expensive brand-name cosmetics is exposed! Consider this next time you get swayed into spending unnecessary money by the promise of “the oil of exotic orchids that only grow on a particular rocky outcrop of Hawaii’s Kahoolawe island.”

Sciencey LOLs

funny cats laughing

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Like, Totally Awesome Science Videos:

Top 20 Unexplained Photos of Human HistoryThis is a top collection of eerie unexplained creatures, phantoms, deep-sea monsters and other phenomena performing elegant photobombs that – to this day – remain unexplained. Some photographs may look a little suspect, but others make your hair stand on end.

Creepy unexplained photographs

5 Crazy Science Stunts You Weren’t Taught at SchoolFor a quick and entertaining peak at the world of chemicals and one man’s death wish to get his hands blown clean off, watch this amazing science video.

Symphony of ScienceThe “Symphony of Science” series puts together beautiful graphics and music with the auto-tuned voices of some of the most eminent of modern scientists, notably Neil DeGrasse Tyson, for us to learn from and enjoy.

Also, Neil DeGrasse Tyson… what a rock star.

Neil DeGrasse Tyson badass

And that’s your reading material for the week, folks!