Northern Lights

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What do you see in the sky at night? Rena Dam and Ryan Geertsma look at something amazing – the Aurora Borealis, or the Northern Lights. They look at the origin of the Northern Lights, and stories from around the world.

Voice 1 

Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Rena Dam.

Voice 2 

And I’m Ryan Geertsma. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

Voice 1 

Picture a dark black sky. Suddenly, a large line of light appears. It looks like someone cut through the sky with a knife. The light shines through the opening.

Voice 2 

Now, the light begins to move. It gets softer. It starts to look green in colour. The lines of light move around the sky. They look like they may touch the ground very far away.

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Voice 1 

Then, a burst of light appears! There are more colors now. They look like rays of sunshine all over the sky. The lights are changing very fast. They form a large curtain. The curtain moves. It looks like it is dancing. The lights dance away back into the dark black sky.

Voice 2 

These lights in the sky are called the Aurora Borealis or the Northern Lights. Today’s Spotlight is on these Northern Lights.

Voice 1 

Pierre Gassendi was a famous scientist and philosopher in the early 1600s.  He was the one who named the Aurora Borealis. This name comes from Ancient Roman stories. Aurora was the name that Romans gave to the goddess of the dawn – the rising of the sun. The second half, Borealis, is named after the north wind. So in English Aurora Borealis means “the dawn of the north.”

Voice 2 

If you live in the Northern part of the world you may have seen the northern lights before. They also appear in the far south. There they are called the Aurora australis. The Northern Lights appear in many colors. People most often see green or red. The color is different depending on how far north or south you are. The Northern Lights also look different at different altitudes – they look different high up in the mountains than at sea level.

The Northern Lights in Scotland, Isle of Mull;
The Northern Lights in Scotland, Isle of Mull; Image by mcbeaner from Pixabay
Voice 1 

But what are the Northern lights? What causes them? People have been wondering about this for years. The Northern lights are a part of folk culture in many countries. People around the world have traditional stories that explain the Northern lights. Here are a few of them:

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During the Viking period, people thought that the Northern Lights were images of young women who were dead. Other people believed that the northern lights were signs of huge fires in the north. And other people thought that it was God lighting up the cold, dark parts of the world.

Voice 1 

Inuit people believe that the lights are the land of the dead. They believe that dead friends in this land try to connect with living people. They think that this is what is happening when the lights change very fast.

Voice 2 

The lights often change shape and color. The Scots call them “merry dancers” because of this movement. Some Native Americans believe that they can connect with spirits of the dead by whistling at the lights.

Voice 1 

Danish people have a traditional story about the Northern Lights. They say that a group of large white birds called swans once flew too far north. The swans got caught in the ice. They moved their wings up and down, flapping to get free. Every time they flapped their wings, they made images in the sky. These images became the northern lights.

Voice 2 

But not every country had a nice story about the Northern Lights like the Danish. Some cultures believed that the Northern Lights represented evil. They were afraid of the lights. They thought the lights were a terrible force. And many people believed that the Northern Lights caused natural disasters, like earthquakes or floods.

Voice 1 

These traditional stories are very interesting. But there is a scientific cause of the northern lights – the Sun!

Voice 2 

Sometimes there are storms on the sun. These storms release a cloud of solar particles into space. The solar particles are made up of atoms that have a magnetic charge. They are full of electric forces.

Voice 1 

Some of these magnetic solar particles come near to the earth. When they do, they are pulled in by the earth’s magnetic field. The magnetic field pulls the particles to the two magnetic poles on the earth: the North Pole and the South Pole.

A representation of Earth’s magnetic field
A representation of Earth’s magnetic field By Drdan14 at the English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0
Voice 2 

The Northern Lights appear when the solar particles crash into the gas of the earth’s atmosphere. More solar particles make the lights bigger and brighter. In certain years, the sun has more storms. During these times, the northern lights can be seen from farther away. They may also be larger than usual. Rachel VanderVeen lives in Northern Canada. She says that the year 2012 had many solar storms. She tells Spotlight what happened:

Voice 3 

“My husband does not often run. But one day he was walking home from school when the northern lights began. They moved across the dark sky in many colours. Even with the light from the town, they were amazing. Usually, we see the Northern Lights in bright green. But that day the colours made my husband run to find me. The lights were pink, purple and orange. We have lived in the north for many years now. That was the first time we have seen so many bright colours.”

Voice 1 

You can see why so many people believe that the Northern Lights are special. People travel from all over the world just to see the Northern Lights. But it is difficult to capture such an amazing sight.  Some people spend days taking pictures of the lights.  Other people try to describe the northern lights in words. Today’s program ends with a part of a poem about the Northern Lights. It is called ‘The Aurora Borealis’ by S. Moore:

Voice 4 

The Aurora Borealis or northern light
With its movements so strangely bright,
Moving and dancing along the sky –
A picture of beauty to please the eye.

How sweetly the shining particles fly!
How quickly the flashes of light in the sky!
You would think the young angels had gathered in crowds
To play hide-and-seek through the golden clouds,

Let wise philosophers search out the cause,
And tell me the Science of Nature’s laws;
And how these magnetic rays of light
Enrich the north of a frosty night.

So let the stories be what they may,
I love to look on the bright display
Of the ever moving, changing hues,
Seen in these grand but short lived views.

The Northern Lights in Norway;
The Northern Lights in Norway; Image by John Huang from Pixabay
Voice 2 

The writers of this program were Sara DeKoster and Rena Dam. The producer was Rena Dam. The voices you heard were from the United States and the United Kingdom. All quotes were adapted for this program and voiced by Spotlight. You can listen to this program again, and read it, on the internet at This program is called, ‘Northern Lights’.

Voice 1 

You can also leave your comments on our website. Or you can email us at You can also find us on Facebook – just search for spotlightradio. We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight program. Goodbye.


Have you ever seen the Northern Lights? Have you ever seen anything like them?



Join the discussion

  • I have never seen the northern lights in my life. During my listening to this episode, I fells like I see them ,because you descripe thier looking in a way that alows us to imagine them . Its great to listen and imagine.

  • I live in Vietnam, also the north part of the world, but this is the first time I hear about the northern lights, amazing stories about and the scientific cause of them. I will try seeing if we can observe the northern lights in my country from now. Thank you for the interesting information about them.

    • YES! The Northern Lights are a real thing that happens! I have never seen them personally. But Adam has seen them!

  • i from Vietnam and I come from the Northern but that was the first I hear North light. I hope that one day I can see the Northern lights. Thank Spotlight for me many things interesting

  • I’ve never seen Northern Lights. I want to add that Northen Lights can be seen only in the places which are above polar circles – the Arctic Circle and the Antarctic Circle.
    I like your poem. Could you read more poems in your programs. Thanks a lot for your huge and useful work.

  • I`m Colombian and as you know in this part of the world can`t see the Aurora Borealis. Actually i would like to see this fisic fenomenum in the world; i think will be a fantastic landscape like a beautiful real picture.

  • What a interesting natural phenomenon! I didn’t hear about this lights before. Maybe it has a folk name in native language and I may heard about it. Base on the picture of Northern lights that this program provided, I think I might see something similar to it. Anyway, thank you for an amazing topic.

  • I am come from Vietnam. And I have not seen the Northern Lights before . I hope ones day I can see the Northern Lights in Sweden, my favorite country. Thank you Spotlight English committed me a lot of new things which I have not thought. All knowledge extremely useful for me. Thank you so much. Have a good day.

  • While I was listening to the podcast, I closed my eyes and tried to imagine the view. I wish I could travel to see this sight which I think it would be amazing.(this phenomenon was mentioned in the Holy Qur’an).
    Thank you all of you for these amazing episodes that enrich and improve my english language

  • I live in VietNam. So, I have never seen the Northen Light. I am very like the light of the nature. If I have the occasion, I must see the northern light using my eyes.

  • The Northern Lights have never been visible to me. I was born and raised in Vietnam, which is an Asian country. Naturally, there are no Northern Lights to be found here.
    Nevertheless, I learned about it through the internet, and I believe that they are extremely beautiful. Generally speaking, the Northern Lights are a vibrant green or bright blue in color. I was completely taken aback the first time I saw them because they are truly remarkable. There used to be some Vietnamese who were captivated by their beauty, and as a result, they decided to travel to Northern Europe in search of the Aurora Borealis. They wait for it to appear for a number of days, and the vast majority of people are satisfied with their patience and effort. If the conditions are right, I believe I will go in search of the Northern Lights. This will most likely take a long time. What’s the big deal? I wish I could have seen them with my own eyes for the first time in my life.

  • I have never seen the Northern Lights, and I really want to find and see them at some point in my life. It would be fantastic if I could see the Northern Lights in Scotland or somewhere similar to this. Having already witnessed the eclipse and rainbow, even if they did not contain anything particularly noteworthy, these events are reminiscent of my childhood, which is why I will always remember them.

  • Northern lights is amazing , I hope to see it when i go studying in Canada soon , this is my dream ,
    i wish you make more spotlight in such subject to make us more enthusiastic to listen and learn English .
    Thank you from my heart for your useful content for beginner learner of English

  • It wasn’t until I learned about the Northern Lights that i realized how magical and incredibly beautiful they are. I wish I could withness them once in my life; i wwould be mesmerized by the shimmering lights and vibrant colors of this vivid and colorful spirit, which i wish i coul see

  • I have never seen Northern Lights in my life. The first time I hear and try to imagine how special is. You can imagine full of colors or shapes as their described. It’s great to listen and know more knowledge.

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