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Monday, November 10, 2014


Posted By R. Ann Siracusa

Soon it will be that time of year. Many of us will be putting up outdoor lights and decorating our homes. We all like to see the pretty lights during the Holiday Season. They're cheerful and beautiful (and probably use a lot of energy). But we love them.

But one of the most spectacular display of lights is a natural phenomenon and doesn't add anything to the electric bill—if you live in one of the auroral zones of the world.
Aurora Borealis

An aurora is a natural light display in the sky. The word comes from the Latin word meaning sunrise, also the name of the Roman goddess of dawn. The aurora borealis (northern lights) were named after the goddess Aurora and the Greek name for north wind (Boreas) by Galileo in 1619. I wondered if Galileo actually traveled to the north to see them, but didn't go into it. Later, I found a reference that they were named by a French Astronomer in the 1500s.

After reading several incredibly technical descriptions of what causes them, I settled on the simplest from Wikipedia which says that auroras are "...caused by the collision of solar wind and magnetospheric charged particles with the high altitude atmosphere (thermosphere)."
They appear as curtains or sheets of light or as a diffuse glow.


I think I am going to name my next heroine after the southern lights: Aurora Australis. The aurora australis are seen near the south pole in the southern hemisphere. The word australis is the Greek word for south.

They are strongest in an oval around the south magnetic pole and not often seen in populated areas, although I found photos taken in Tasmania and Australia. Increased solar activity sometimes increases visibility from more distant locations.

Auroral displays are more common near the equinoxes, but this doesn't mean they won't occur at any other time. From the Southern polar region, displays occur between March and September. The rest of the year the pole experiences 24 hours of daylight. In fact, right at the South Pole the is one sunset and one sunrise per year.


Seeing either the aurora borealis or the aurora australis is definitely on my bucket list. However, I'm going to Antarctica at the wrong time of year.

Darn. Maybe I'll be lucky and there will be some sort of electromagnetic storm.
If you want to see the display, you need to plan your trip accordingly.


Tina Donahue said...

Great post - gorgeous photos - makes Monday a little easier to bear. :)

Tina Donahue said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Judy Baker said...

Me too, I want to see Aurora borealis too. It's on my bucket list too. Beautiful pictures. Thanks for sharing.

Cara Marsi said...

Wow! The pictures are gorgeous. Seeing the aurora borealis is on my bucket list too, but I think that may be one that I don't make. Thanks for the info and the pictures.

jean hart stewart said...

Love those pictures. My latest book, Redemptive Pursuit, has St. Elmo's fire as a big element of the plot. I enjoy reading about these natural phenomena in our skies.

Melissa Keir said...

I have only seen the natural light show once. It was so pretty. Thank you for sharing and inspiring us!

Fran Lee said...

I love the night skies...especially in Canada and Montana! Utah's air has become so dirty lately I can barely make out Orion!

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