Aurorasaurus Connects with Schools – Outreach with 4th Graders

Aurorasaurus Connects with Schools – Outreach with 4th Graders

The Aurorasaurus team spent time this last month connecting with schools and and answering questions with a group of 4th graders from Manitoba. It is important for scientists to share their love of science and expertise with the public, teachers and kids. Sharing their research topic really sparks curiosity!

Aurorasaurus received some great questions from the class of 4th graders and their teacher Ms. Carruthers from Manitoba. As many kids are around the world, this class is learning remotely. They had some very good questions, and the Aurorasaurus team did their best to answer them all!

Below are examples of some of the questions these bright students asked and the answers given. To read all the informative questions and answers visit the Aurorasaurus blog post: Asking Questions – Like Scientists!

How many particles does it take to make the full northern lights? 

We aren’t sure exactly, but it’s a LOT!

More to Explore:
Overall, space and the upper atmosphere are not very dense, which means that there are many fewer particles in the air than there are where we live. If you imagine a tiny cube that is 1 cm on each side, there might only be 100 tiny particles in that cube—sometimes less and sometimes more. The air we breathe is sooooooo much more dense.

That said, the Northern Lights are like a glittery work of art, the colors shining with many many tiny points of light. We didn’t know how many particles that might be, because while scientists learn a lot about the subject they study, no one knows everything there is to know about it. When scientists don’t know an answer, they ask questions and do research—just like you did sending us these questions! We asked our friend Dr. Sten Odenwald if he had an idea for how many particles might be shining. He did some math problems and estimated that it might be about 100 trillion trillion! That’s not just trillion, but trillion trillion—a lot of particles!

Are there more colors than green, blue, pink and red? 

auroral colors
Different kinds of atoms and molecules make different colors.

Aurora colors are made when particles that have gotten a lot of energy from the Earth’s magnetic field bump into atoms and molecules in the upper atmosphere. Instead of saying “whoops excuse me!” the particles give the atoms or molecules some of their energy. The atom or molecule can’t hang onto the energy for very long, so it then gives off the energy as light. Different atoms and molecules make different colors of light. Oxygen makes red and green, and nitrogen makes pink and blue.

Sometimes the aurora can look like it has other colors because of the way that our eyes interpret colors mixing. Colors of light mix differently than colors of paint. While red and green paint might be a great way to make brown paint, red and green light make yellow light. Because of this, people sometimes see colors like yellow or cyan in aurora.

How big are aurora, and how far can they go?

Aurora can be thousands of kilometers long!

More to Explore:
How high up an aurora is can affect far away you can see it. Aurora forms between 100 to more than 500 kilometers (60 miles to more than 300 miles) above Earth. To give you an idea of what that means, 500 kilometers (300 miles) is roughly the altitude of the International Space Station. The higher the aurora, the farther away it can be seen from the ground. Usually they occur at high latitudes around Earth’s poles, but the stronger the solar storm causing the aurora, the further toward the Earth’s equator they can occur.

These 4th graders were asking great questions! To see all the amazing questions they asked the Aurorasaurus team and to learn more about the aurora, visit the Aurorasaurus blog post: Asking Questions – Like Scientists!

The Aurorasaurus project is supported by the New Mexico Consortium. Thank you to the Aurorasaurus team for sharing your knowledge and enthusiasm of the aurora with others!


Photo at top of page by Laura Brandt.