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What Is the Fear of the Northern Lights?

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Updated December 31, 2012

Question: What Is the Fear of the Northern Lights?

Auroraphobia, or the fear of the northern lights, is a rare but often powerful phobia. Officially termed the aurora borealis, the northern lights are a breathtaking astronomical phenomenon. The dazzling light show is beautiful, but can be downright frightening for those with this fear.

Answer:

Aurora

The aurora borealis occurs in the northern hemisphere, while the aurora australis takes place in the southern hemisphere. Technically, auroraphobia could be triggered by either light show, but the aurora australis is rarely seen in populated areas. Created by the collision of charged solar particles with oxygen and nitrogen atoms in the thermosphere, the brilliantly colored lights streak through the night sky in a wide range of brightness levels. The northern lights are most visible in northwestern Canada, Alaska, and the northern coasts of Norway and Iceland, but have occasionally been seen as far south as New Orleans.

Fear of Astronomy

Astronomy and astrology have been linked throughout history, with soothsayers and fortune tellers attempting to make predictions based on activity in the night sky. These predictions have become Hollywood box office gold in recent years, and doomsday scenarios are popular plot lines. For those who do not fully grasp the science of astronomy, it is easy to become afraid. Groupthink is a powerful force that occasionally leads to mass hysteria. Those who suffer from religious-based or doomsday phobias may be at particular risk for developing a fear of astronomical phenomena.

The fear of astronomy may also be based on fears of the unknown or loss of control. The northern lights are a dramatic demonstration of nature's power, and many people who have seen them report feeling small and humbled by the experience. If you prefer to be in tight control of yourself and your surroundings, you may fear this reminder that we are not in charge of everything.

Source:

American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th Ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

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