Friday, November 16, 2007

The Northern Lights

Aurora Borealis or The Northern Lights

The Aurora Borealis, or Northern LightsThe Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights

Even for a modern man Aurora Borealis also known as the Northern Lights is an unusual phenomenon occasionally seen in the arctic skies. It generally is takes place by the fall of the dusk; like a screen gets spread in the sky exhibiting designs that can marvel even the imagination of the latest graphics expert. A modern man can only compare the scene in surprise and compare the heaven as to a huge LED screen for the Almighty to display his skills in graphics and animation! The multicolor rug never static or remain idle as long as it is there it goes on changing its hues and designs. From time immemorial Auroras (a k a Northern Lights) had been visitors to the Polar skies, and the ancient people were smart enough to attribute further colors to it by their fantasy and story telling skills.

Aurora Borealis.

Aurora Borealis (Aurora is the Roman goddess of dawn, and Borealis is the northern wind) is apt word as Aurora deserves the name nothing less than that of a Goddess for its beauty and Borealis (Greek that means the Northern Wind) suggests it location as it is frequent in Northern Hemisphere). When compared to Aurora the name Northern Lights is plain and dull. For an ancient man wonderstruck by the fireworks and intriguing images appearing high above the sky; no other words would be more apt; just call it the beautiful goddess of the north. These heavenly displays are generally found in places closer to the Polar Regions, but it may take place although rarely in temperate regions also. September to October and March to April is the time frequented by it.

Poor grandpas invent out of necessity.

Aurora borealis as seen from Space Shuttle Atlantis Aurora borealis as seen from Space Shuttle Atlantis

For generations people have been intrigued by this phenomenon they feared, worshiped as well as fabricated stories about it. Elder people when pestered by children about these colorful phenomena on the skies were rather forced to cover their lack of knowledge with the figments of imagination. Auroras have been described as heaven itself (the abode of good spirits and souls), dead women especially virgins (this may be a story of some one scared of women especially virgins!); they are considered as signs for royal birth (may be a courtesan’s version), and feared as the precursors of war (a coward’s version!) like this each grandpa had his own story. The dragon legends of the Chinese Mythologies are said to have their roots in the Auroras, they are as well believed as ghosts of dead people come to have a look at their siblings!

What is an Aurora?

 Schematic of Earth's magnetosphere Schematic of Earth's magnetosphere

Let us see what the scientists have to say about the auroras “are mere emissions of lights when charged particles rub each other” is their stock answer. For them the earth is constantly getting showers of charged particles from the sun, when these relatively low energy particles of the solar wind gets trapped in the magnetic field of the earth. These charged particles collide with those (electrons and protons) of the Earth’s upper atmosphere (more than 80 km in height).

How the colors?

Red and green Aurora in Fairbanks, AlaskaRed and green Aurora in Fairbanks, Alaska

The collision in the upper atmosphere electronically excite the particles, the energy produced by the excitation is spent as light or collisions. The Auroras we see are green or red if they are emissions from atomic oxygen, where as nitrogen ions produce red, blue or violet rays. In short Auroras are the result of energy exchanges taking place between these charged particles; as if light is emitted from within a cathode ray tube.

Ancient Greek explorers have found that (Pytheas 1741) very high magnetic fluctuations occur at the time Auroras are formed. This has been later confirmed that very large electric currents are associated with Aurora formation.

Kristian Birkeland (1867 – 1917).

The world is much indebted to Kristian Birkeland (born in Oslo in 1867) who has contributed much in demystifying Auroras. Mr. Birkeland is also well known as a scientist who presented his first research paper at the age of 18. Fascinated by the Auroras he did several researches on it. He established a series of laboratories in the Polar Auroral Regions to collect magnetic field data, and discovered numerous phenomena associated with Aurora. The discovery of X- rays inspired him to invent cathode ray tubes and study the magnetic field data. Mr. Birkeland even simulated Aurora in his lab using cathode ray tubes. The Earth’s Magnetic sphere, the Global Pattern of Electric Currents all are his contributions to the world.

Goddess of Love not Dawn!

 Aurora australis Aurora australis

Scientists are phenomenal bores and they make molehills out of mountains, Aurora theories are no exception to this statement. Aurora is actually the Roman Goddess itself who fell in love with Tithonus (son of Laomedon –the king of Troy).

‘It is no wonder we can say;

He was more beautiful than day!’

In her urge she took away him to the heaven and requested Jupiter to grand him immortality to match him with the eternity of a goddess. The request was granted but in her hurry she forgot to ask for his eternal youthfulness also! When time passed Tithonus began to show signs of ageing. Aurora’s infatuation ended when his hairs grew grey and she left the old man for his fate; but she was kind enough to give him a palace and the royal cuisine. When he became too old and even his limbs refused to move; Aurora got ashamed of him and made him a grass hopper- to get rid of her eternal embarrassment!

Poor Aurora!

The Aurora and Tithonus couple had a son; Memnon who became the king of Ethiopia but unfortunately got killed by the army of Antilochus the son of Nestor in a war. Poor Aurora had to witness the death of her son sitting on the heaven. She could do nothing but sent the wind to carry the body of her dear son to the banks of River Esepus. The funeral pyre was set and it was set by Jupiter then thousands of birds flew out from the pyre and they began to fight each other in to two groups. Finally all the birds fell in the pyre and disappeared.

Leave the bores and go for the marvelous!

Each year the funeral pyre and the birds visit the earth in memory of the death of the dear son the Goddess of Dawn. Actually what you see in the sky are the funeral pyre and the thousand birds born out of the pyre; which have come to celebrate the obsequies of Memnon. The dew drops that shines like diamonds on the grass blades in the early morning are not condensed moisture (as these scientists say) but the tear-drops of a bereaved mother –Aurora; the Goddess of the Dawn. Don’t take what scientists say they are a spoilsport lot, who find a boring story behind every marvelous phenomena! They even say life is protoplasm and dreams mere activities of idle brain.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Aurora borealis... ah, one of the things I'd love to witness in my lifetime... but likely will never.