“And the Aurora Borealis was out. I’ve seen it only a few times in my life. It hung and moved with majesty in folds like an infinite traveler upstage in an infinite theater. In colors of rose and lavender and purple it moved and pulsed against the night, and the frost-sharpened stars shone through it. What a thing to see at a time when I needed it so badly!”
– John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley: In Search of America, 1962
Awesome and Awe-Inspiring: the Aurora Borealis
- The Aurora Borealis or “the Northern Lights” is one of nature’s most incredible spectacles: imagine a fireworks show created by Mother Nature!
- With Spartan and the Green Egg and their collectible explorer stickers, you can learn about one of the night sky’s most awesome displays of colorful shimmering lights. “The Northern Lights in Alaska are named after the Roman goddess of the dawn, Aurora. They can be seen in Alaska late at night or very early in the morning. The lights are a beautiful mix of green, blue, or red.”
What Causes this Ethereal Phenomenon?
Sparkling, dazzling, eerie, beautiful, magical…all of these adjectives are used to describe the Northern Lights. So, what causes them?
- “Electrons from solar winds mixing with gasses found in the atmosphere” are what causes the awesome light show. In more complete terms: “The Northern Lights are actually the result of collisions between gaseous particles in the Earth’s atmosphere with charged particles released from the sun’s atmosphere.”
- And what causes the incredible colors?
- “Variations in color are due to the type of gas particles that are colliding. The most common auroral color, a pale yellowish-green, is produced by oxygen molecules located about 60 miles above the earth. Rare, all-red auroras are produced by high-altitude oxygen, at heights of up to 200 miles. Nitrogen produces blue or purplish-red aurora.” What’s your favorite color in the Aurora Borealis?
Where to See the Northern Lights
Set out to see this miraculous marvel of nature! Other than Fairbanks, Alaska, “the best places to watch the lights (in North America) are in the northwestern parts of Canada, particularly the Yukon, Nunavut, and Northwest Territories. Auroral displays can also be seen over the southern tip of Greenland and Iceland, the northern coast of Norway, and over the coastal waters north of Siberia. Southern auroras are not often seen as they are concentrated in a ring around Antarctica and the southern Indian Ocean.”
Here are some specific places where the lights are visible:
- Fairbanks, Alaska
- Tromsø, Norway
- Lapland, Finland
- Orkney, Scotland
- Yellowknife, Canada
- Reykjavik, Iceland
- Kangerlussuaq, Greenland
Myths and Legend: Spirits and Reflections
As with everything beautiful and mysterious in the world, there is usually some sort of fantastical myth surrounding its existence. As for the Northern Lights, there are ancient legends from around the globe that people have believed for centuries.
- “The Maori of New Zealand shared a belief with many northern people of Europe and North America that the lights were reflections from torches or campfires.” The soft glow of a campfire in the cold night was a sign of survival.
- “The Menominee Indians of Wisconsin believed that the lights indicated the location of manabai’wok (giants) who were the spirits of great hunters and fishermen.” Can you imagine giant glowing spirits roaming the earth and night sky?!
- “Native Alaskan Inuit tribes used to believe the lights were spirits of whales, seals, salmon, and other animals in the region” while it is also believed, by other aboriginal peoples, that the lights were ancestral spirits.
- In Norse mythology, the reddish colors of the aurora were thought to be a bridge made of fire in the sky, built by the gods.
For more information on how to collect your Spartan and the Green Egg explorer pins and stickers, visit the website below:
For more information on the Aurora borealis, what causes it and where to see it (along with other topics), check out the webpages that were consulted in this blog:
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