The Northern Lights
The auroras borealis and australis, also known as the Northern Lights and Southern Lights, were once the stuff of mystery and legend, from a fire bridge to the sky built by Norse gods to the spirits of the Inuit ancestors dancing in the sky.
The first recorded account of these ethereal, dancing lights came from a Babylonian clay tablet that was made by King Nebuchadnezzar II‘s astronomers in 568-567 B.C. and the auroras remained an intriguing mystery until June of 1896 when Norwegian scientist, Kristian Birkeland, suggested the theory that electrons from sunspots triggered the auroras.
Until recently, there were still certain aspects of the northern lights that remained a mystery, such as why the auroras dance and what causes occasional bursts of light and swirling effects during these stunning magnetic storms in our upper atmosphere.
There are many interesting legends regarding the northern lights, including those from the ancient Greeks who believed the aurora was essentially a goddess who was the sister of Helios (the sun) and Seline (the moon), and the ancient Romans who believed that “Aurora” was the goddess of the dawn. In China, where it was rare to see an aurora, those who witnessed the incredible phenomenon believed that the lights were a great, stellar battle between good and evil dragons. In southern Europe, the aurora, although rarely visible, would usually appear red in color and was seen as a bad omen.
While we presently know a lot more about how this stunningly beautiful celestial event is created, it is easy to understand how people of any era could believe the auroras were actually gods or spirits dancing in the heavens. No matter the cause of their existence, they are no less a breathtaking sight to behold.
Here are some of the top locations in the world where the auroras can be most easily viewed:
Here you can view a video of the Northern Lights, courtesy of National Geographic: