Basically an aurora is formed by the interaction of high energy particles and primarily atomic nuclei (or ions) interacting with the earth's atmosphere near both poles. The nuclei originate in the sun and travel outward as the solar wind.
The nuclei/ions travel along the earth's magnetic field lines which are more concentrated toward the poles. The solar wind nuclei/ions collide with nitrogen and oxygyen diatomic molecules and atoms, which are themselves ionized. The recombination of ions and electrons produces the colored light seen in the aurora.
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