What is the Aurora Australis?
Aurora is the collective name given to the photons (light) emitted by atoms, molecules and ions that have been excited by energetic charged particles (principally electrons) travelling along magnetic field lines into the Earth's upper atmosphere. Aurora results from the interaction of the solar wind with the Earth's magnetic field.
The amazing color displays and formations are produced by the solar wind -- a stream of electrons and protons coming from the sun -- as it collides with gases in the upper atmosphere. These collisions produce electrical discharges which energize atoms of oxygen and nitrogen causing the release of various colors of light. Earth's magnetic field channels these discharges toward the poles. Variations in sunspot activity or the occurrence of so-called 'coronal holes' can often considerably enhance the auroral discharge adding to the intensity and duration of the displays.