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The Northern Lights

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Comet Hyakutake with aurora borealis, 16-04-96 Featured Aurora Borealis Image

Comet Hyakutake with aurora borealis, 16-04-96

Comet Hyakutake. Comet Hyakutake (1996 B2, lower right) with a display of the northern lightsor aurora borealis. Comets are formed from aball of ice and dust only a few km across. Whenthey approach the Sun some of the ice melts & isblown away by high-velocity charged particles fromthe Sun to form a tail. The tail is visible due tothe reflection of sunlight by dust and dischargesby excited gases. Charged particles from the Sunalso cause the aurora borealis. They becometrapped by the Earth's magnetic field and aredrawn to the poles where they excite atmosphericatoms. The atoms energy is released as light.Photographed in Alaska, USA on 16.4.96

© Jack Finch/Science Photo Library

Comet with aurora Featured Aurora Borealis Image

Comet with aurora

Comet Hale-Bopp seen over trees silhouetted byan aurora borealis display. Hale-Bopp was one ofthe brightest comets of the 20th century, and wasseen for much of early 1997. A comet is a lump ofice and rock. Its tail is formed as its iceevaporates as it nears the Sun. The tail alwayspoints away from the Sun, and may stretch formillions of kilometres. The aurora borealis is anatmospheric phenomenon caused by the interactionsof charged particles from the Sun with the Earth'smagnetic field. The magnetic field channelsparticles to the poles, where they excite gasmolecules in the upper atmosphere, causing them toglow. Photographed from Finland in spring 1997

© Pekka Parviainen/Science Photo Library

Comet Hale-Bopp & aurora borealis Featured Aurora Borealis Image

Comet Hale-Bopp & aurora borealis

Hale-Bopp comet. Optical image of theHale-Bopp comet seen over trees and the AuroraBorealis. The comet's head and tails are clearlyvisible (centre). The head comprises ice and rock(nucleus) surrounded by a region of glowing gas(coma). The gas or "ion" tail (blue) is formed bythe solar wind blowing ionised gas away from thehead. The dust tail (white) is formed by sunlightpushing dust away from the comet's head. Hale-Bopp was discovered on the 23rd June 1995, it isone the brightest comets of the 20th century andwas last seen around 2000 BC. The Aurora Borealis(northern lights) is also visible (lower centre).Photographed in Fairbanks, Alaska, USA

© Jack Finch/Science Photo Library