I have always been fascinated by the northern lights or what scientists refer to as Aurora Borealis. What causes this phenomenon, what is the best place and the best time to experience it, and what is the legend all about?
These mysterious lights are the result of collisions between gaseous particles in the Earth’s atmosphere with charged particles released from the sun’s atmosphere. There are protons and electrons from the sun that escape through holes in the magnetic field. These charged particles are blown to earth through solar wind and enter Earth’s atmosphere. Since the Earth’s magnetic field is weaker at the poles, the charged particles collide with the Earth’s gas particles to produce this incredible light show. The particular colors that we see are due to the particular type of gas the particles are colliding with. For example, nitrogen produces the bluish-purple color. The yellow-green color is due to oxygen molecules closer to earth. The red color is also from oxygen yet further away (a height up to 200 miles from Earth).
Experiencing the colorful lights dancing across the Arctic sky will definitely be on my bucket list one day. I may be traveling to Northern Norway to see the lights as that is often said the best place to observe this celestial ballet of light. A small village without all the “light pollution” would be ideal. The best time to see the auroral activity is during the winter season on a clear night around midnight.
So, what does Aurora Borealis mean? Well, the translation is “dawn of the north”, from the Roman myth Aurora who was goddess of the dawn. There are many legends in the lights. I found it fascinating to read about all the different legends from around the world. In medieval times, the lights were seen as an omen of war or famine. Some in Europe and North America thought the lights were reflections of torches or campfires. Some of the Native American Indians thought the auroras indicated where giants were located. The Inuit of Alaska believed the lights were spirits of animals that they hunted such as seals, deer, and whales. Other aboriginal people thought they were spirits of their own people who have died.
When I do get to the Northern Lights, I will be sure to take plenty of videos. I will also bring a stack of my Penless Postcards to send to my friends and family.
When my friends and family receive the postcard, they just have to scan the QR code and view the picture or video. For those who still don’t have the Penless app, they just need to download the free app and they are all set!
“It’s a curious thing about the universe. Behind the most stunning sights to behold, lies some of the most challenging problems in physics”. – Scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson