INFOGRAPHIC: What colors can appear in an aurora?

By Jessica Clayton

In this blog post, Jessica Clayton (a member of the Aurorasaurus Team) presents her easy-to-understand Infographic to help you learn about the auroral colors. Just scroll down to view the infographic. Or you can click here to read about Jessica’s experiences and reason for creating the infographic. The infographic discusses what colors you might see in an aurora, why this is the case and shows off some beautiful photos of the aurora taken by aurora-hunters such as yourself!

If you have any questions then please ask and, as always, you can leave feedback on this blog post (and the infographic) in the comment section below!

We hope you enjoy!




Also available at Piktochart

Why display this information as an infographic?

Interviewer: “So, what do you know about aurora?”

I was feeling slightly uncomfortable fidgeting in my chair as I thought about how honest I should be….  After all, I am a physicist. I’ve taken years of classes… shouldn’t I be able to explain this basic phenomenon? But physics is an incredibly large and diverse field. While I’ve studied neutrinos and gravitational waves, space weather and aurora were never part of my education.

Me: “Well, not much. But I can definitely learn!”

I got the job and started my journey to learn everything I could about auroras. My goal: to explain the complex interactions that give us auroras in terms that everyone can grasp.

I knew the basic principle: atoms and molecules in the atmosphere get “excited” and emit light. But how? Why?

I read.

I read a lot.

I looked at diagrams and images.

And the more I learned, the more questions I had.

I was really struck by a particular image. Excited oxygen atoms were labeled, but some were shown emitting red light, while others were shown emitting green light. And then there was nitrogen… sometimes labeled blue, sometimes pink. What was going on? Yes, I knew that the amount of extra energy that an atom or molecule possessed would influence the color of light it emitted. But why those particular colors? And why were the colors forming in layers? Are the colors different when you are closer to an aurora? Why are they often green?

I dug in and found answers for myself. And then I thought about how to present the information to you, Aurorasaurus users. I chose to present the material as infographics because they are a visual way of learning, and auroras are a very visual phenomenon. The infographics blend pictures with short descriptions using common language. Thus far, I’ve developed five infographics that unravel complex interactions that affect auroral color. I hope to continue this journey… by exploring more about aurora, geomagnetic storms, and the Sun… and sharing that with you. Please post comments on this work and any new aurora questions that you would like to learn more about!  Stay tuned for more infographics and enjoy this one, the first of five related to color!


Jessica is a member of the Aurorasaurus education team and has a Ph.D. in physics. She lives in Los Alamos, New Mexico, where she attempts to balance life as a mom and physicist.

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