What Layer Do Auroras Occur In?

The auroras are one of the most beautiful sights in the world. But what layer do they occur in?

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Auroras occur in the ionosphere, which is the part of Earth’s upper atmosphere that is ionized by solar radiation. The ionosphere is divided into three layers: the uppermost layer is the thermosphere, followed by the mesosphere and then the stratosphere. The aurora occurs in the region between the thermosphere and stratosphere, called the atmosphere.

The Sun’s Role

The sun is constantly spitting out solar wind—a stream of charged particles. And when that solar wind interacts with Earth’s magnetic field, it funnels the particles toward the poles. There, in the upper atmosphere—between about 60 and 620 miles (100 and 1,000 kilometers) above Earth’s surface—the particles collide with atoms of oxygen and nitrogen. Those collisions cause the electrons in the atoms to get all excited and give off light. The lights we see from Earth are actually a curtain of photons streaming outward from these energized particles.

The Earth’s Role

Most people are familiar with the beautiful light displays in the sky known as auroras, or the northern and southern lights. But what causes these colorful ribbons of light, and where do they come from?

Auroras occur when electrically charged particles from the sun enter the Earth’s atmosphere and interact with atoms of oxygen and nitrogen. These particles are deflected by the Earth’s magnetic field into an area around the North and South Poles known as the auroral oval. The type of aurora you see depends on how high in the atmosphere the interaction takes place.

Auroras occurring at lower altitudes appear as slow-moving curtains of light, while those taking place at higher altitudes appear as fast-moving streaks or flashes. The most common type of aurora is called an emission, which looks like a bright line or streak across the sky. Another type of aurora, called a reflection, is caused when sunlight reflects off of ice particles in high-altitude clouds.

The Aurora Borealis

The Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights, is a natural light display in the sky, predominantly seen in high-latitude regions. Auroras occur when charged particles from the sun interact with the upper atmosphere. These charged particles are funneled towards the poles by the Earth’s magnetic field. When these particles collide with atoms and molecules in the atmosphere, they emit light. The different colors of an aurora are determined by which types of atoms and molecules are involved in the collision.

Most auroras occur in a layer of the atmosphere called the ionosphere. The ionosphere is a region of the upper atmosphere that is ionized by ultraviolet radiation from the sun. This layer extends from about 50 kilometers (31 miles) to 1000 kilometers (621 miles) above the Earth’s surface.

The Aurora Australis

The Aurora Australis, or “Southern Lights”, is a faint light visible in the Southern Hemisphere. It is best seen from high-latitude locations such as Antarctica, New Zealand, and Tasmania. The Aurora Australis is produced by charged particles from the Sun interacting with the Earth’s atmosphere. These particles are channeled towards the poles by the Earth’s magnetic field.

The Ionosphere

Most people have seen pictures of the beautiful, multi-colored lights in the sky called the aurora borealis, or northern lights. These lights are actually collisions between electrically charged particles released from the sun that enter the earth’s atmosphere and collide with gases such as oxygen and nitrogen. The type of gas that is present determines the color of light that is produced.

The particles that cause auroras are funneled to the poles by the earth’s magnetic field. At lower latitudes, the moving charged particles create auroras in an oval-shaped zone around each magnetic pole. In the Northern Hemisphere, this zone is called the auroral oval, and in the Southern Hemisphere it is known as the Antarctic polar cap.

Auroras typically occur in the upper atmosphere, between about 80 and 150 miles (130 to 240 kilometers) above Earth’s surface. They are usually visible in a band around each magnetic pole. This band expands and contracts during different times of day and different seasons of the year.

The Magnetosphere

The magnetosphere is a region of space surrounding Earth where the dominant magnetic field is that of the planet. This region begins around 400 kilometers (250 miles) above Earth’s surface and extends outward about 64,000 kilometers (40,000 miles), reaching as far as the orbits of some satellites. Auroras occur when charged particles in the magnetosphere collide with atoms in Earth’s upper atmosphere.

The Thermosphere

Auroras typically occur in the thermosphere, which is the outermost layer of the Earth’s atmosphere. This layer extends from about 60 kilometers (37 miles) to 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) above the Earth’s surface. The thermosphere is divided into two regions: the ionosphere and the exosphere.

The Exosphere

The exosphere is the outermost layer of Earth’s atmosphere (i.e. the upper atmosphere). It extends from the exobase, which is located at the top of the thermosphere at an altitude of about 700 km above the surface, to about 10,000 km where it merges with interplanetary space. The exosphere is a critical region for several reasons. First, it is through this region that heat energy and other forms of energy released by the Sun interact with Earth’s upper atmosphere. Secondly, charged particles from both the solar wind and cosmic rays interact with Earth’s magnetic field in this region to create auroras. Finally, many satellites orbit Earth within the exosphere.


In conclusion, there are many different factors that contribute to the formation of auroras. The most important factor is the presence of a strong magnetic field, which can be found in areas near the Earth’s poles. Additionally, auroras typically occur in the upper atmosphere, specifically in the thermosphere and exosphere. Finally, auroras are usually associated with high levels of solar activity, specifically when there is a lot of charged particles in the solar wind.

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