Planets with green aurora have oxygen

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Last week, I talked about the spaceport Poker Flat, Alaska that launches rockets for research on the aurora.

In the Earth’s atmosphere, an electrically charged layer exists between 80 km and 400 km height. Here, molecules of nitrogen and oxygen, and oxygen atoms absorb X-rays and ultraviolet radiation coming from the Sun. In this process, the gas becomes excited, i.e. electrons jump to a higher orbit around their nucleus. Each affected molecule loses one or more of its electrons and then becomes a positively charged ion. Because of this ionization, this atmospheric layer is called the ionosphere.

When the electrons fall back to a lower orbit around the nuclei, the emitted radiation becomes visible as aurora. Auroras in the northern and southern hemisphere are called aurora borealis and aurora australis, respectively.


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