Sunday, April 17, 2005

Aurora Borealis

The sky has been overcast a lot. It is today, and forecast to snow again later. It's still really bright, as if the sun comes in around the edges of the world, even though you can't see it directly. I guess it's because the ground is still mainly covered with snow. Where there are gaps in the cloud, the sunlight comes in and reflects off the snow, then off the clouds, then off the snow again, the land transmitting the light like a giant cold optic fibre.

I knew it was a tourist question, but I had to know, and didn't want to miss the chance, I asked, "what time of year are the Northern Lights?" It turns out that they are all year, you just can't see them in the summer, because it's too bright. It is amazingly light, considering that it is only three weeks past the equinox. We aren't far enough north here to experience six months of darkness and six months of light, but it was light enough to see clearly at ten pm last night and it's broad daylight at five am. A couple of evenings ago the sky was mostly clear, and after midnight someone called me outside to see.

When I first looked, I thought I was looking at a low cloud illuminated by the lights of the city below: a vague, dimly lit form in the direction of downtown. Then I realized that was the northern lights. I was near a cluster of houses, so I couldn't see the whole sky, and it wasn't a perfectly clear night. They were sort of greenish, and wavered a little, with stars visible through the sweep of green. I think the sight would have been more impressive if I had been able to see the whole sky, and if I hadn't been seeing colour-enhanced postcards of the phenomenon all day. Also, for the proper experience you have to get away from the light pollution of the city.


Kris Johnson said...

I saw the lights once while visiting North Dakota (where my parents are from). Not knowing what I was seeing, I asked "Is that cloud glowing?" It didn't look much like any of the pictures I'd seen, but it was still pretty cool.

Lost Av8r said...

I used to see them all the time in Thompson. I never got board of them. I managed to get a few photos with my digital camera, but none that give the Lights justice. They're just awesome to watch

Lord Hutton said...

Lucky you. What a thing to see. Nothing like that in Devon