Justine Amodeo 2017-12-06 05:06:53
The northern lights, also known as the aurora borealis, are a natural celestial display most prominent from December until early April when electrically charged particles from the sun collide with gases in Earth’s atmosphere, creating an ever-changing display of fireworks that dance and swirl across the northern sky. Named for Aurora, the Greek goddess of dawn, the undulating ribbons of brilliantly colored light have long been the subject of superstition and myth—from a warning of impending war or plague to the lights being signals from spirits of the dead. Scientists now know that the lights are actually caused by interactions between the solar wind and Earth’s magnetic field, and nowhere are they more magical than north of the Arctic Circle during the polar night, when the sun does not rise above the horizon during the middle of winter (from around mid-November to mid- January). While it’s a sporadic phenomenon (particularly powerful solar winds and flares cause northern lights when the direction of the solar wind is aimed at Earth), the best viewing of the polar night is from the archipelago of Svalbard, a string of Arctic islands in the Barents Sea, midway between continental Norway and the North Pole. In the perpetually eerie blue twilight, visitors can chase the green, dark blue, yellow, orange and red rays of the midnight sun from heated snowcats, or brave the cold on snowmobiles among reindeer and arctic foxes in their natural environment. The northern town of Tromsø, Norway, is another popular spot to view the curtains of light. And there, the world’s most northerly university, brewery and planetarium is open to light chasers looking for a more scholarly explanation. The northern lights also appear over Finland, Iceland, Alaska, Sweden, Denmark and parts of Canada each year. Visitors to the arctic regions can fall asleep to the dancing display from inside glass igloos, view them on reindeer-drawn sleigh rides or cruise Norway’s fjord-lined coast aboard a Hurtigruten ship where passengers get wake-up calls to head out on deck when the lights start to flare. Active periods can be about 30 minutes long, and occur every two hours if the activity is high, so sleep during the day—it’s dark, after all.
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