Here's a great video primer on how auroras form, from Per Byhring and the physics department at the University of Oslo. With wonderful graphics, the nearly five-minute-long video details the origin of the solar storms that trigger the Northern and Southern lights.

The video explains how the fusion of hydrogen atoms deep in the sun produce heat and energy, which bubble up to the surface and let loose a cloud of electrically charged particles. After about 18 hours, this plasma reaches the Earth and interacts with the planet's magnetic field, which funnels the particles to the poles, thereby setting off the polar light shows.

The Aurora Borealis from Per Byhring on Vimeo.