Tuesday, June 23, 2015

A Sky on Fire

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Last night I witnessed something I have never seen in person. I saw the northern lights while visiting at the lakeside cabin of a friend. The light show came as quite a surprise. I didn't realize the Earth's atmosphere was being impacted by a major electromagnetic storm until I looked for news coverage of the northern lights after I saw them. An accessible explanation of what causes the northern lights can be  found here.

I sat on the patio of the cabin and gazed almost due north. The constellation Ursa Major was high in the sky and slowly wheeling down in apparent orbit around Polaris. I could see Polaris near the right edge of my unobstructed field of vision. And before me unfolded a light show I had only previously seen in videos. I have visited locations at more northerly latitudes than where I am now. For example, five years ago at this time I was in Bergen, Norway for a summer course. But it's essentially impossible to see the northern lights from Norway near the time of the summer solstice due to the bright light that dominates the night hours.

The northern lights had such an ethereal, dreamy quality about them. The colors were predominantly a mixture of shades of gray. They had a wispy, dancing quality about them that reminded me of smoke emanating from a fire. As I sat and watched I imagined the Earth hurtling along in its orbit and being bombarded by the streamers of charged solar particles. When we sit still we may imagine we are truly sitting still but the Earth is still throttling through space.

Nights like last night vivify my appreciation of my eyesight. There is so much beauty to be seen in the world.

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