If you are like my wife, and your partner is of a somewhat nerdy persuasion, here is how you can impress him or her: Explain Northern Lights – or Aurora as we should call them since they happen in the South, too – in under one minute.
That can be done, and I will show you how. First, you will need to load this video. Then you will have to find your own variation of saying the following:
See, this is our Sun. It loses material, protons and electrons, at a rate of several times the mass of the Earth per day. The spots you see on the Sun are connected to the largest explosions in the solar system and release more matter than you can imagine. The particles race outwards carrying their own magnetic field with them, hitting Earth’s magnetic field and, thankfully, being mostly deflected.
But, if conditions are just right, the magnetic fields melt together on the day-side of Earth and fold the Earth’s field backwards towards the night side where, strangely, the same thing may happen again. It’s like the wire of a bow gaining in tension. And when the whole thing melts together once more, the sparkling little electrons burst into the polar night sky. There they hit molecules and atoms in the atmosphere and create dancing, pink Northern lights over North Africa – wait, what?
Alexander is a physicist, teacher and science communicator who is currently working at the Norwegian Centre for Space-related Education at Andøya Space Center in Norway. Even though, in his case, work and play do overlap, the content on this webpage is entirely private. You can follow Alexander on Twitter, Facebook and Google +.