Are the northern lights safe?
by Lucky Byfleet
Are the northern lights safe? Yes. The earth is protected by the magnetosphere – but without it, they could do some damage. However, you probably aren’t googling this as you fly through space.
Don’t worry. There is no such thing as a stupid question, and the reason this article is here is that one of the top questions we get asked during the Northern Lights season (after “Can a whale eat a human?”) is “Are the northern lights safe?” or “Can the northern lights hurt you?”.
To answer this fully you need to know what the Aurora borealis are. The Northern Lights are a natural light display that occurs in the Earth’s polar regions when charged particles from the sun collide with the Earth’s atmosphere.
The simplest explanation is that the Northern Lights are solar wind entering the magnetic field that surrounds the Earth.
The magnetosphere of earth
The Earth is surrounded by the magnetosphere – imagine a magnetic force field. Ionized solar (in Icelandic sun is sól!) particles enter it and electrons are flung out into the earth’s atmosphere. Those electrons collide with gases, gases that are full of energy! When the energy is released we see it as bright colors. Different gases being stimulated create different colors in the aurora, mostly we see green and yellow colors from oxygen, but when nitrogen is affected we see reds, pinks, and blues!
That magnetosphere keeps us safe – without it, we would be exposed to all the harmful effects of the solar wind – like radiation. If you are thinking of colonizing Mars this is a problem for you as Mars has no magnetosphere.
Other reasons that answer the question: are the northern lights safe?
- Observers on Earth do not come into direct contact with the Northern Lights. They are visible high in the Earth’s atmosphere, typically at altitudes of 60 to 250 miles (100 to 400 kilometers) above the Earth’s surface.
- The Northern Lights do not produce any pollution or emissions that could be harmful to humans or the environment.
- There are no harmful chemicals or radiation associated with the Northern Lights.
A really strong solar storm can damage our electronics, causing issues with communication, and even blackouts. However, places like hospitals, where energy is critical to life in the short term have backup generators, and we also get advanced warnings of solar flares, so they won’t be creeping up on us!
However, it’s important to keep in mind that the Northern Lights are a natural event, and their visibility can be influenced by various factors, including weather conditions, light pollution, and the time of year. To maximize your chances of witnessing this breathtaking spectacle, it’s advisable to join guided tours led by experienced professionals who can take you to optimal viewing locations and provide information about the phenomenon. Additionally, dressing warmly and being prepared for cold temperatures is essential when observing the Northern Lights, especially in polar regions where they are most commonly seen.
We sail daily from Reykjavik harbor, Iceland, on our beautiful yacht Amelia Rose. During the winter we take people out to see these stunning (and not dangerous) northern lights. Hopefully, now that you can be sure that the Northern Lights are safe, you will come out and view them with us!
One of the benefits of seeing the northern lights from a yacht is that whilst we are looking for them during cold winter evenings you can rest comfortably inside the warm yacht area. Another benefit is of course that there is less light pollution sailing away from the city.