Explore the aurora with these hands-on activities!
UAF Photo by Todd Paris, 2015.
The northern lights are awe-inspiring! Aurora explorations can be a stepping stone for curiosity and student excitement about heliophysics: the study of the sun/Earth system and the effects of the sun on the Earth.
- Magnetic Fields Activities
- Aurora Colors Activities
- Aurora Observation Activities
- Iñupiaq Knowledge of the Northern Lights Activities
- Aurora Videos
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Learn about Earth's magnetic field by experimenting with magnets and iron filings!
Magnet Exploration: Try these simple experiment to see how magnets work. Watch a video about finding magnets in old electronics!
Magnetic Fields on Paper (Courtesy of NOVA): Sprinkle iron filings on top of a piece of paper with a magnet underneath to discover magnetic fields.
- 3D Magnetic Field Viewer (Courtesy of Multiverse): Build your own 3D magnetic field viewer from simple materials.
DIY Iron Filings
Iron filings are a great way to visualize magnetic fields. Here are a couple of different ways to get iron filings from things you might have on hand. Remember to use a mask when working with small particles.
1. Hand file a piece of iron or steel. Make sure you use proper eye protection.
2. Collect iron particles from the dirt in the environment around you using a strong magnet and a plastic bag. This video shows someone doing this in their yard.
3. Cut open a hand warmer packet and pour out the contents on a plate. Wait for the contents to finish reacting. When they are cool to the touch, take a magnet wrapped in plastic and extract the iron. Remove the magnet from the plastic over a container so the iron particles fall off into the container.
The sun's energy being deflected by Earth's magnetic field.
Explore how charged particles create the colors of the aurora, and make your own northern lights artwork!
Aurora Chalk Art: Create your own artwork inspired by the northern lights!
Aurora Bracelet: Explore how gases in the atmosphere cause the different colors of the northern lights, and make a colorful bracelet to remind you of the aurora colors.
- Colors of the Aurora: Learn why the aurora appears as different colors. Explore videos & activities about aurora ovals and glowing gases!
- Diagramming the Northern Lights: Discover how solar wind, the atmosphere, and Earth's magnetic field are the perfect recipe to create the phenomena of northern lights. Print or view this poster as a visual aid.
Image: Sebastian Saarloos
Learn how scientists predict the northern lights by looking at space weather!
When Are the Northern Lights Visible: Learn how Earth’s rotation, tilt, and orbit affect when the aurora is visible.
Be An Aurora Forecaster: Investigate how scientists monitor solar activity to predict when the northern lights are likely to occur.
- Watch the Northern Lights: Visit the Geophysical Institute Aurora Forecast website to find out if the aurora will be visible tonight. If you can't see the aurora from where you are, check out Poker Flat's live allsky cam.
Poker Flat allsky cam.
Discover Iñupiaq cultural knowledge about the northern lights with vocabulary, stories, and dance.
Iñupiaq Vocabulary: Learn Iñupiaq vocabulary for terms used in aurora science. Explore the pronunciation guides online on the Cultural Connections website. Vocabulary flashcards are available in North Slope Iñupiaq or Seward Peninsula Iñupiaq.
Northern Lights Storybook: Learn about the aurora by reading stories from Iñupiaq elders, and write your own northern lights stories. Download the story sheets here. Listen and watch Iñupiaq elders tell these stories at the Cultural Connections website.
- Aurora Storytelling: Visit the Cultural Connections website to listen to stories from elders about the northern lights, hear songs, and watch
the Welcome the Sun dance.
- Interview Elders In Your Community: Ask an elder in the community, "Can you tell me about the northern lights?" and listen to what they say.
The above activities and pictures come from the Geophysical Institute's Cultural Connections kit, which can be checked out here.
Left to Right: Iñupiaq elders Mary Ahkivgak, Ronald Brower, and Fannie Akpik.
Kiuguyat: The Northern Lights
"Can you tell me about the northern lights?" A film exploring how some of Alaska's indigenous peoples describe and experience the aurora borealis.
Video courtesy of Cultural Connections: The Northern Lights/Geophysical Institute.
Surveying The Northern Lights
Learn about how researcher Don Hampton observes and monitors the aurora!
Video courtesy of Science Friday.
Sunny with a Chance of Space Storms
Watch Dr. C. Alex Young's lecture about sunspots, coronal mass ejections, the aurora, eclipses and more.
Video courtesy of the UAF Geophysical Institute.
Aurorasaurus: How You Can Get Involved In Aurora Research
Watch Elizabeth MacDonald's lecture exploring how how the general public can get involved in citizen science to help better understand the aurora. Learn more at the Aurorasaurus website.
Video courtesy of the UAF Geophysical Institute.
This project was funded under NASA cooperative agreement NNX16AL65A. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.