Imagine a cold October night, you walk out to your car and something catches
your eye. You step further into the street be it busy or not, and you begin to turn in 360a
circles. For what your eyes behold is far from anything you have ever seen. A circle of
green and blue swirl through the night sky, I could best describe this as two ballroom
dancers doing a “Waltz” through the night sky. They flow, they glide so gracefully that
they capture you and keep you entranced for a very long time.
This my first experience viewing the amazing Aurora Borealis, it did not matter
that people were watching, or that the roads were iced over and that I could not stand on
my own two feet very steadily. For as unbalanced on my feet I might have felt, I felt
very balanced watching these ballroom dancers in the night sky. October 1996,
As enthralled as I was with aurora borealis, so were many other cultures. In Middle-Age Europe the Auroras were thought to be the reflections of heavenly warriors. As a kind of posthumous reward the soldiers that gave their lives for their King and Country were allowed to battle on the skies forever. The northern lights were the breath of these soldiers as they resumed their fight in the sky. The Scots saw the lights as Merry Dancers, while the Swedes thought the lights performed folk dances and polkas.
The power of the auroras is said to be fruitful for the earth, they draw animals to certain areas so that they are plentiful for hunters. The Scandinavian people would say the lights are sunshine reflecting off of the herring in the northern sea. A welcome omen for the fishermen to reel in large amounts of fish. According to folklore tradition shared by some Alaskan Eskimos, the northern lights are the souls from those whom died from massive blood loss. Be it from childbirth, murder, or suicide. The spirits from these bodies would play a game similar to that of soccer in the night skies, but they would use either the head of a walrus or of a human. It would seem as though you could hear the chattering as the jaws thrust toward the players.
There are reports that the auroras have the ability to heal, however; their ability to bring on ailments is far more founded. Researchers from the USSR published results that stated that people are more likely to have fatal heart attacks when the auroras are at their strongest point. The myth and mystery of aurora borealis is so widespread. It encompasses so many countries that it is impossible to share all their thoughts. My favorite folklore is that of the Eskimos of the lower Yukon River in Alaska. They would describe the Auroras as the dancing souls of their favorite animals: deer, seals, salmon, and beluga whales.
Under the spell of the Auroras the Universe comes to life and people will be drawn to their loveliness, no matter what the myths or folklore share, the Auroras are magical and spell binding for all whom have the opportunity to experience them.
The Auroras are never absent from the earth, they are just often not seen. Viewing them is easy if you are fortunate enough to live in the favored locations. The Auroras are prominent in the Southern and Northern Hemispheres and spend most of their time around the edges of the earth where they are said to dance solely for the penguins and the polar bears. However, due to the tilting towards the sun and irregularities in the earths magnetic field, the aurora is 20-30% brighter in the northern hemisphere.
Where the auroras are most common people tend to be scarce. Examples of these areas that have phenomenal views of the auroras would include; Goose Bay, LaRonge, and Yellowknife, Canada; Barrow, Alaska; Tromso, Norway; and parts of Russia. Amidst these areas the auroras can be seen from the autumn to the spring as long as the nights are cloudless and the temperature is cold.
If you are fortunate enough to live near the favored locations previously mentioned you are most likely going to have your opportunity to see the spectacular show. The ovals of the aurora borealis or the haloes of auroral light spill out into the hemisphere close to the poles, they actually expand so that the displays spread out towards the equator. People whom live close to the auroral zone have better luck than those of us whom live further away do.
The northern lights are not visible during the daylight hours, thus excluding the twilight hours of summer. Intense and dramatic aurorals tend to be more common around the spring and fall equinoxes. This would allow persons whom live close enough to the auroral zone to view them as well.
It is said if you view the auroras just after the sunset you will see what appears to be a large cirrus cloud that has been silvered with a soft, slow-shifting light, and that the auroras will be spectacular later in the evening. It is often true that if you have a spectacular show one night, the next night is bound to be just as terrific. The auroras seem to follow cosmic conditions that are right for the lights for several days. Bright auroras seem to follow a 27day interval, thus making it easier to view them. Note that the best time to view this exquisite site is on a clear night during the hours closest to midnight.
People most interested in the activity of the auroras will obtain daily forecasts for the Space Environment Sciences Center located here in the United States. It is here that they collect and maintain data on the earths magnetic field. They use this information to predict what type of auroral activity you maybe able to see. A quiet magnetic field is equivalent to a quiet aurora, one only viewed in the auroral zone. While that of an active magnetic field is equivalent to a spectacular, dramatic outburst that may spill over the auroral zones, allowing others to view their magnificent forms of arcs, bands, orbs, donuts, spirals, and hazes. These displays that you will see can be in a vast array of colors.
Due to rapid changes these forecasts are only good for a few hours after they are issued. This location can help you to be in the right place, at the right time to view these wonders.
The auroras can be connected to the climate as well. In the old days the weather forecast was based on the activity of the auroras. They were however, often wrong. Even after the turn of the Century, one could read in the Encyclopedia Britannica that the auroras and thunderstorms were the result of the same phenomenon, just different form of an electrical discharge.
Scientists are able to predict the activity and intensity of the auroras due to the rotation of the sun every 28days. Electron and proton particles that join together create a flow out from the dark hollows of the sun. When the sun rotates, streams of these particles travel toward the Earth, increased solar winds cause auroral displays when the particles transfer their energy through the atmosphere at about 65miles above our head.
It is certain that the energy that feeds the auroras does come from the sun. The form of this energy travels in the solar wind at a speed of nearly 400km/sec (900,000mph) therefore it may take days to reach the earth, whereas light travels in approximately 8mins.
The power of solar winds is equivalent to the output of gigantic electrical generators streaming into the Earths magnetic field, the power from the solar winds provides enough energy for charged particles to turn on the northern lights/auroras. The light of the auroras is emitted through the molecules and atoms of the Earths atmospheric gases; this process is somewhat similar to the illumination of a neon sign or a picture tube in your television set. Scientists say that the people in Anchorage, Juneau, and the Lower 48 are in for the most brilliant displays as we approach the year 2000. During this time frame the researchers are expecting to see numerous sunspots and solar flares. Researchers will title this year a solar maximum due to the abundant unpredictable solar flares, the solar maximum and the years that precede and follow it will make aurora predictions tougher for scientist.
Scientists say that this may hinder their ability to predict the activity of the lights, thus making it more of a challenge for those who follow them. Followers will have to depend on their senses. Maybe some will be surprised and hear the whispers, or the crackles that some say comes when seeing the auroras. The voice of the auroras is still a mystery. Scientists have yet to tape the sounds of the auroras but will continue their attempts at getting them on tape. Some scientists believe this to be unreasonable due to the fact that the auroras dance in the thin air of our ionosphere approximately 60-200miles above us and that the ionosphere cant travel the sound waves that far in a timely manner, thus making it hard to hear the voices. People whom have heard them will tell you that it is the whispers of the dead trying to communicate with those of us on earth. It is believed by some, that if you wave to them they will come to greet you or become even livelier. While others believe that if you do answer them, then do so in a whisper. The auroras are to be treated with kindness and respect.
The Northern Lights/Auroras are poetry; they are natures true light show. They are elementary particle physics, superstition, mythology, and folklore. The northern lights have filled people with wonder, and inspired artists; they have frightened people to think the end is at hand. No matter what the myths or folklores share, the Auroras are magical and spell binding for all.
4. Michael Macy, Alaska, Mallard Press, 1991
5. Oliver E. Allen, Atmosphere, Time-Life Books, 1983
6. Candace Savage, Aurora, Greystone Books, 1994