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The Auroral Lights
By Phyllis Naegeli
1 Erica lay back on the snow and stared up at the night sky. The northern lights were so beautiful tonight. This was one of her favorite events when she visited her grandparents in Fairbanks, Alaska. She loved to watch the ribbons of lights flicker across the sky. Her thoughts were interrupted when her grandmother called to her.
2 "Erica," called Grandma. "It's time for bed; you need to come in now."
3 "Okay, I'm coming," answered Erica as she got up off the cold ground.
4 Erica entered the small home where her grandparents lived and smelled the air. The aroma of her grandmother's freshly baked bread filled the air.
5 "Mmmm, that smells wonderful," said Erica as she kissed her grandmother on the cheek. "I'll go get ready for bed."
6 "We'll be in to say goodnight in a few minutes," said Grandma.
7 "Okay," Erica answered, heading down the hall to her bedroom.
8 Soon after, Grandma and Grandpa came to tuck her into bed.
9 "Grandpa, what causes the northern lights?" Erica asked.
10 "It's a rather complicated process, but let's see if I can give you the simple version," said Grandpa with a grin.
11 Grandpa loved to explain how things worked. Erica knew it would be a great bedtime story.
12 "The Earth is like a giant magnet," began Grandpa. "We are surrounded by a magnetic field called the magnetosphere. This magnetosphere is what causes a compass to always turn north. The auroral lights occur when the sun interacts with the atoms that are in the magnetic field."
13 "How does the sun cause the lights?" asked Erica with a puzzled expression.
14 "Well," continued Grandpa, "The sun is so hot that its outer layer is propelled away as a solar wind. The solar wind is really a giant electrical discharge that reacts with the Earth's magnetic field. When the charged particles reach our Earth, they collide with oxygen atoms in our atmosphere, causing them to give off light. Most of the time you see yellow-green light in calm ribbons like tonight, but sometimes the lights will be a deep red, and other times there will be an active outburst called an auroral substorm."
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