Monday, March 18, 2013

Secrets of the Northern Lights

Source: Brian Peterson/Minneapolis Star Tribune/MCT, 2012, EBSCOhost Image Collection, viewed  18 March, 2013.

For centuries, mankind has marvelled at the spectacular displays of the ‘Northern Lights’ – first called ‘Aurora Borealis’ or ‘dawn of the North’ by Galileo Galilei.[i] This phenomenon occurs when gusts of charged energetic particles from the sun breach the Earth’s magnetic shell and hit the planet’s atmosphere. [ii]

One of the mysteries surrounding the aurora is that many people have heard ‘crackling sounds during auroral displays, often synchronised with the phenomena’s movements’. [iii] For this reason, the Sami people of Norway called the Northern Lights guovssahas – or ‘the light you can hear’. [iv]

It is much easier for us to view an aurora in this century, than in earlier centuries - as the last few centuries have seen an increase in solar activity.[v]  This winter has been forecast as an excellent time to view the aurora, as solar activity is expected to peak in 2013.

To read Brekke’s (2013) article on the ‘Secrets of the Northern Lights’, login to Ebsco’s Science Reference Centre, with your library card’s barcode.


[i]  Brekke, P 2013, 'Secrets of the Northern Lights', Sky & Telescope, 125, 2, p. 18, Science Reference Centre, EBSCOhost, viewed 12 March 2013.
[ii] Ibid., p. 19.
[iii] Ibid., p. 23.
[iv] Ibid., p.23.
[v] Ibid., p. 24.

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