Dark, winter nights in the north country provide a show not available to those living at lower latitudes. The aurora borealis (northern lights) put on their dance about 60 miles above the earth’s surface when electrically charged particles collide with gasses in the atmosphere. The resulting energy is shown as “lights” in various colors of blue, red, purple, yellow, and green.
The lights are there all the time, but summers in the north are too light to see them under the midnight sun. As winter settles in and the nights grow longer the show presents itself once again. Not predictable, but well worth looking up after the sun goes down.
Bundle up and get ready to go outside for the show. Yes, you can see them out a window if you are in a dark area, but when you live in town you may need to take a little drive. This makes it more like an event.
Don’t live far enough north? No worries. There are plenty of videos online that show the northern lights. Maybe you can watch them in a dark room at night to make it more interesting.
Here are some projects you can do after the night adventure!
How to capture the lights on a camera
Taking images of the lights may be helpful with your other projects. The shapes and colors are always changing so it may be difficult to remember after you have a night’s sleep. And yes, you can get great pictures with current models of smartphones.
The key elements of getting a good image include:
- Have a clean lens.
- Put your phone on airplane mode or turn off calling and messaging.
- Use a tripod.
- Be in a dark spot away from any streetlights.
There are plenty of lessons online for taking night photography with your type of phone. The same is true if you want to use your DSLR camera. It also works on old film cameras, but not sure where you can get film or developing these days.
Using cardstock and watercolor paints, have the kids paint their version of northern lights. This will be the background of the project so cover all of the page. Find some silhouettes of animals you see in your area –bears, moose, ravens, etc. Cut out the images and have the kids glue them onto the watercolor background once it is dry. To make it a piece of art, cut out a frame from black construction paper and hang it in your “home gallery.”
Instead of watercolor paint try some colored chalk pastels. For this, you begin with a piece of black construction paper as the canvas. To make it more interesting, cut out a curvy line out of a legal size piece of printer paper to simulate a mountain range.
Affix the “mountains” to the long edge of your black canvas. Make short vertical markings about an inch wide and 2 inches beyond the edge of the “mountain”, with various colors of your chalk. You will have a dozen or so colors spread across the canvas.
Taking a cotton ball, rub the chalk to create the lights. Start at the “mountain” and brush up onto the blank canvas. You might wish to use a fresh cotton ball for each color. You will have colors going in all directions.
Carefully remove the mountain template to reveal your beautiful northern lights. Another option is to dab on some white dots of paint with a paintbrush or eraser end of a pencil to simulate stars.
Thanks to OneLittleProject.com for this activity. There are a few more there to explore.
Books to Read Together
A trip to your local library can be an adventure too. Here are a few books to look for or discover what treasures there may be on the shelves. Searching their shared library list may produce even more options you can order from other locations.
- Northern Lights!: A Kid's Book About Aurora Borealis, by Nicholas Eliott
- Rory: An Orca's Quest For The Northern Lights (Ocean Tales Children's Books), by Sarah Cullen, Carmen Ellis, et al.
- Unbelievable Pictures and Facts About Northern Lights, by Olivia Greenwood
- Northern Lights For Kids! Discover Pictures And Facts About Northern Lights -A Children's Northern Lights Book, by Bold Kids
And a couple of Videos for the younger kids...
- 3 Cool Facts about the Northern Lights from CBS Kids.https://youtu.be/pyOGpGsxDIs
- The Nature of Thingies: The Mystery of the Northern Lights with David Suzukihttps://youtu.be/08EyMscYT_M
Oooo’s and Ahhh’s are guaranteed no matter where you are watching the northern lights show.