Aurora Activities

Explore the aurora with these hands-on activities!

Green aurora lights over a hill.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.

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Magnetic Fields

Learn about Earth's magnetic field by experimenting with magnets and iron filings!

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.

The sun's energy being deflected by Earth's magnetic field.

Aurora Colors

Explore how charged particles create the colors of the aurora, and make your own northern lights artwork!

Purple and green aurora lights in the sky, with tree silhouettes below.Image: Sebastian Saarloos


Aurora Observation

Learn how scientists predict the northern lights by looking at space weather!

360 degree shot of the aurora directly overhead.

Poker Flat allsky cam.


Iñupiaq Knowledge of the Northern Lights

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.

The above activities and pictures come from the Geophysical Institute's Cultural Connections kit, which can be checked out here. 

Inupiaq Elder Mary Ahkivgak smiling.Inupiaq Elder Ronald Brower talking.Inupiaq Elder Fannie Akpik smiling at the camera.

Left to Right: Iñupiaq elders Mary Ahkivgak, Ronald Brower, and Fannie Akpik.

Aurora Videos:

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.



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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. 
All photos from NASA unless otherwise credited.