Northern lights project for kids

Written by nicole schmoll
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Northern lights project for kids
When teaching your children about the Northern Lights, explain that scientists refer to them as "auroras." (aurora borealis image by Moritz Frei from

You can readily see the Northern Lights in darkness near the North and South Poles. In North America, the Lights, also called auroras, can be viewed rarely, sometimes once a year, on a dark night and in a setting with few artificial lights. Auroras occur when solar storms blow into the earth's atmosphere from the sun. Scientists study auroras and with a little creativity, you and your children can study them, too.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Magnet
  • T-pin
  • Small glass bowl
  • Water
  • Cork

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  1. 1

    Discuss that our earth has a magnetosphere that protects it from the sun, but when solar wind interacts with it, electrons form in the earth's atmosphere near the North and South Poles. Inform them that this makes atomic elements, such as oxygen and nitrogen, glow red, green and even purple and is what causes the Northern Lights.

  2. 2

    Use magnets to explain the science behind the Northern Lights. Demonstrate magnetism by having your children create their own compass. Fill a bowl with water and wipe a T-pin along a magnet, such as one on your refrigerator, 25 times. Insert the T-pin partially into a cork from a wine bottle. Place the corked pin in the water and watch it rotate so it lines up along the earth's north-south axis. Use this exercise to help your children understand the concept of a magnetic field surrounding the earth.

  3. 3

    Show pictures of auroras that you find online or in encyclopedias and science books. Ask your children questions from the information you just reviewed, such as where auroras occur, what causes them to happen and how their colours are made.

Tips and warnings

  • If you live in the northern United States along the Canadian border or in Alaska, go outside late at night in an area free of lights in March or late September to early October and watch the night sky for the Northern Lights. Check the University of Alaska's aurora forecast (see Resources) for the best time and exact location to go to give yourself the best chance to view the Northern Lights.

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