These dancing celestial hues have been both feared and revered throughout history. Today, although we know their cause – charged particles ejected from the sun reacting with the earth’s atmosphere – they are no less awe-inspiring. Enormous curtains of bright green, red and blue sway among the stars. To see them, you must travel north to the Arctic circle, away from light pollution, on a clear, dark night when the solar winds are blowing. Wait, look up and you might just catch the greatest show on earth.
Constellations of electric blue lights wash along the shores of Vaadhoo Island in the Maldives. Known as bioluminescence, this biological light is produced by marine microorganisms called phytoplankton, which illuminate beaches around the world. The fairy-tale display happens when a pigment called luciferin reacts with oxygen, while an enzyme called luciferase speeds up the process. But what looks like an enchanting spectacle may actually be a harrowing escape attempt. Phytoplankton often use bioluminescence as a defense mechanism. The light distracts predators by disrupting their swimming behavior and may lure animals that feed on them.