The Wonder of the Northern Lights

The aurora borealis delights and amazes us, but we’re just beginning to understand its beauty.
Available on CBC Gem

The Wonder of the Northern Lights

Nature of Things

The northern lights (aurora borealis) are one of the greatest natural wonders of our world. They have dazzled people for thousands of years and intrigued scientists for centuries. What causes the kaleidoscope of colours, patterns and shapes? Why do the northern lights sometimes appear near the equator? And could knowledge of Earth’s auroras help answer questions about life on other planets?

Now, the mysteries of the lights are being uncovered thanks to an international team of scientists.

David Suzuki journies to the freezing conditions of the Northwest Territories, to meet the experts working on pioneering experiments that hope to answer the biggest mysteries about the lights. On this dazzling expedition, he uncovers how these celestial fireworks form and why they dance in a whole pallet of colours across the night sky. He seeks to find out why they are normally only seen in narrow bands of the sky around the North (or South) Pole, and why solar storms can make aurora appear as far south as the Caribbean.

David joins Dr. Chris Cully as he sends a balloon, equipped with sensitive instruments, into the heart of the aurora, discovering why they occur in a pulsating pattern during the night. He joins Emma Spanswick, from the University of Calgary, as she sets up a 360° camera network across Canada, in a mission to image the entire kaleidoscope of the aurora — from horizon to horizon.

He accompanies dedicated teams of aurora chasers as they hunt to reveal the cause of a newly discovered band of bright violet light that stretches across the aurora-lit night sky. At the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, David meets scientist Nicky Fox who’s studying one of the most extreme aurora events ever recorded, revealing how it was caused, and its effect on the earth.

The vivid ever-changing northern lights can be seen from space
This man chases Alberta's storms in the summer and northern lights in the winter
We searched the internet for the most stunning videos of the aurora borealis

During his stay in the Arctic, David spends time with a First Nation community to learn about their beliefs — how the lights are the dancing souls of their ancestors. And in California, he joins scientists using the aurora to probe an incredible new avenue of research: the hunt for life on alien worlds.

This epic adventure builds a vivid picture of the magic of the northern lights. With dynamic real-time imagery of the beautiful spectacle and immersive CGI, the intricate science of the northern lights comes to life, showing how the dazzling lights in our atmosphere are produced, and what they can teach us.