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Northern Lights and Ozone

The ozone layer--the thin high-altitude shield of O 3 molecules that protects life on earth from damaging solar ultraviolet light--continues in the news. Chemicals released by aerosol spray cans and SST aircraft have the potential to destroy ozone, but just how large these effects are remains controversial.

Now, a recent TIME (February 23, 1976) article cites the effect on ozone of large solar flares. Similar processes occur over Fairbanks when the aurora appears. The same incoming particles (fast electrons and protons) causing the aurora affect the chemistry of the high atmosphere. Nitrogen oxides are formed which attack the ozone.

Consequently, the ozone content of the air over Fairbanks rapidly goes up and down depending upon the amount of aurora. Whether or not this causes us any special problems here is not yet known.