Firstly, what are the ‘Northern lights’?
The northern lights, one of several astronomical phenomena called polar lights (aurora polaris), are shafts or curtains of colored light visible on occasion in the night sky.
Polar lights (aurora polaris) are a spectacular natural phenomena that can be seen in both the northern and southern hemispheres. The northern lights are also known as aurora borealis, and the southern lights are known as aurora australis.
The 23rd Cycle: Learning to Live with a Stormy Star (New York, Columbia University Press, c2001), by Sten Odenwald, sheds information on how the northern lights are created:
The aurora begins on the sun’s surface, when a cloud of gas is ejected by solar activity. This is referred to as a coronal mass ejection by scientists (CME). When one of these reaches Earth, it collides with the Earth’s magnetic field, which takes roughly 2 to 3 days. This field is invisible, but it would make Earth look like a comet with a long magnetic “tail” spanning a million miles behind it in the opposite direction of the sun if you could see it.
When a coronal mass ejection collides with the magnetic field, the magnetic tail region undergoes significant alterations. These modifications cause currents of charged particles to move into the Polar Regions along magnetic force lines. These particles gain energy in Earth’s upper atmosphere and produce brilliant auroral light when they hit with oxygen and nitrogen atoms.
“Aurora are beautiful,” Odenwald continues, “but the invisible movements of particles and magnetism that occur at the same time might harm our electrical power grid and space satellites.” This is why scientists are so interested in learning more about the physics of aurora and solar storms so that we can predict when our technologies may be harmed.
Paraphrased from What are the northern lights? | Library of Congress (loc.gov) – read more there.
WHERE SHOULD YOU GO TO SEE THE NORTHERN LIGHTS?
Northern lights have been seen as far south as New Orleans in the western hemisphere, but equivalent regions in the east have never witnessed the enigmatic lights. The finest spots to see the Northern Lights (in North America) are in Canada’s northwestern provinces, including Yukon, Nunavut, Northwest Territories, and Alaska. Auroral displays can also be visible over Greenland’s southern tip, Iceland, Norway’s northern shore, and the coastal waters north of Siberia. Because auroras in the southern hemisphere are concentrated in a ring around Antarctica and the southern Indian Ocean, they are rarely seen.
Areas that are not subject to ‘light pollution’ are the best places to watch for the lights. Areas in the north, in smaller communities, tend to be best.
WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO LOOK FOR AURAL LIGHTS
Auroral activity is also cyclic, peaking roughly every 11 years, according to researchers. The next peak season will be in 2013.
In the north, winter is often a nice time to see the lights. Because of the lengthy periods of darkness and the regularity of clear nights, there are numerous possibilities to observe auroral displays. On clear nights, local midnight is usually the greatest time to view for aurora displays (adjust for differences caused by daylight savings time). http://www.gi.alaska.edu/
THE LIGHTS’ LEGENDS
‘Aurora borealis,’ the northern hemisphere’s lights, signifies ‘dawn of the north.’ ‘Aurora australis’ means’southern dawn.’ Aurora was the goddess of the dawn in Roman mythology. \par Legends concerning the lights exist in many cultures. The appearance of auroral displays was sometimes thought to be a sign of impending war or hunger in mediaeval times. Many northern Europeans and North Americans believed that the lights were reflections from torches or campfires, as did the Maori of New Zealand.
The lights, according to the Menominee Indians of Wisconsin, marked the presence of manabai’wok (giants), who were the spirits of outstanding hunters and fishers. The lights, according to the Inuit of Alaska, were the spirits of the creatures they hunted: seals, salmon, deer, and beluga whales. Other indigenous peoples thought the lights were the spirits of their ancestors. Read more here Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis Explained (northernlightscentre.ca)
Image 3 reference
Anon, (un) Best Northern lights.jpg. [ONLINE]. Available at: https://3.bp.blogspot.com/
best-northern -lights.jpg [Accessed 3 August 2021].