EDUCATION: Illuminating the Northern Lights

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Science  15 Nov 2002:
Vol. 298, Issue 5597, pp. 1305
DOI: 10.1126/science.298.5597.1305d

In Norse mythology, the haunting lights of the Aurora Borealis symbolize a bridge that connects Earth to Åsgard, the home of the gods. In China, the aurora predicts forthcoming births; in Scandinavia it pays tribute to dead virgins. To find out more about how the aurora has captivated sky-gazers in northern climes and to learn about the science behind the show, check out the Web site Northern Lights.

Auroras occur when solar particles collide with atmospheric molecules, generating visible light. Northern Lights—developed as a joint venture between the Norwegian Space Centre in Oslo and Andøya Rocket Range in Andøy, Norway—delves into aurora science at a generally accessible level. A question-and-answer section encourages students to use the site for classroom projects, and a monthly photography contest targets those in pursuit of the aurora's artistic side. The photo-of-the-year winner gets a fully paid trip to Andøy during a northern lights festival in late February.

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