The Northern Lights: Aurora Borealis

Lesson Summary:

The lesson introduces the children to the phenomenon of the Aurora Borealis. The discussion may be used effectively either as an individual reading activity or as a teacher resource.  The lesson should be accompanied by pictures of the northern lights, these are readily available over the internet.  In Activity A the children are required to test their understanding of the phenomenon.  Activity B is a fun and creative way to complete the lesson by allowing them to depict their own concept of the Aurora Borealis.


  • The children will understand and be able to explain the concept of the northern lights: the Aurora Borealis.

Subject Area:


Lesson Excerpt:

The Aurora Borealis were named by the French scientist, Pierre Gassendi, in 1621 after the goddess of the dawn – Aurora and the god of the north wind – Boreas.  Because they are so spectacular, the northern lights have given rise to many myths and legends as well as being the subject of numerous scientific studies.  The Makah Indians of the Pacific Northwest thought that the Aurora Borealis were a reflection of huge bonfires lit by people who lived in the polar regions to boil their whale blubber.  More scientifically, but equally incorrect, was Aristotle’s theory that the lights were the result of vapors rising from the earth and being set alight by the sun.

The first person to figure out what really happens was a 20th century Norwegian physicist, Kristian Birkeland.  This is what he discovered:  Charged particles in the form of both protons and electrons, called solar wind, erupts from the sun in all directions.

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