Sunday, December 16, 2012

Spirits Everywhere

By: Judi Stuart
Port Discover - Visitor Services Manager


Mannheim Steamroller has created my favorite versions of Christmas music for the last twenty-five years. I always get some growling from Hubby when he gets his fill of it during the holidays. A couple of years ago he changed his tune when he heard Mannheim’s “Up Above the Northern Lights on Christmas Night.”

The piece is a hauntingly dramatic musical reflection of the astronomical phenomenon scientifically known as the aurora borealis (northern) or aurora australis (southern) which usually occurs near the two poles of the earth. One of his bucket list goals is to go to see the lights in all their glory.

Proclaiming that “magic fills the air” and “spirits are everywhere” the lyrics get in your mind and won’t leave you. You can see it and hear it on with a video (see below) of the scientific wonder in action.

The lights have been observed since ancient times, but the earliest account is from Babylonian clay tablets during the time of King Nebuchadnezzar II in approximately 568 B.C.

The dancing curtains of magical colors have fascinated humans for thousands of years. Aristotle called them light torches, and Europeans of the Middle Ages thought that they were flaming heavenly castles or armies of warriors who had died in battle.

Children of Norway believed that the lights would swoop them up into the sky if they waved a napkin at them. Eskimos thought that the aurora was dancing animal spirits of deer, seals, and salmon. Inuit tribes thought that the spirits of the dead were playing football with a walrus skull across the sky.

Named after the Roman goddess of dawn, Aurora, and Boreas, the Greek name for north wind, the Northern Lights can appear as patches of light, streamers, arcs, or rays painted in colors of green, blue, violet, red, and yellow. On rare occasions, when solar storms are extremely violent, the lights can be seen much further south or north than the poles.

Solar winds from sun storms send charged particles to earth in the form of clouds of gas. Earth has a protective shield called the magnetosphere. When the particles collide with the magnetic field, they cause changes and generate currents which flow along the lines of magnetic force into the Polar region. When they run into oxygen and nitrogen atoms, they produce the dazzling aurora lights.

Auroras tend to be more spectacular during periods of high solar activity which cycles every eleven years. The activity has been known to damage our electrical power grid and satellite operations. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has sent satellites on several missions called FAST, POLAR, and IMAGE to observe the activity of the Northern Lights.
The best places to see the northern lights are closer to the poles such as Canada, Alaska, Greenland, and Antarctica. They happen all the time, but can only be seen with the naked eye at night.

As the song proclaims, “Christmas night...Let your dreams take flight.”

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