You know, watching colors of the Northern Lights is one of the things in my MUST-SEE list. I'm so eager that I could bear being out all night with -15°C or less to watch this natural phenomenon, leave alone trying to capture it with my camera.
Please enjoy what my friend Marco wrote about it. Aurora is in his list too.
The Myth and Science of the Aurora BorealisWalking in the freezing-cold darkness of the Circum-Polar regions during mid-seasons, one is likely to be lucky enough as to witness a phenomenon of a stunning beauty, the Aurora Borealis (or Australis, according to whether it occurs in the Northern or Southern Hemisphere of the Earth).
Named after the roman Goddess of Dawn, Aurora, and sometimes referred to as “The Northern Lights”, this display of colourful lights has for centuries left even the most brilliant of scientists clueless as far as its origin was concerned: Galileo himself observed and reported the appearance of blue lights over the polar regions of Jupiter, but could not come up with a scientific explanation. On the other hand, the native inhabitants of the extreme northern regions of Canada, Europe and Russia, intrigued by the beauty of the Aurora, have always attributed a mythical sense to it and have, over the millennia, come up with legends whose beauty often matches that of the Aurora itself. According to the Vikings, the Northern Lights appeared when the Valkyries were out riding their horses, while other populations thought this phenomenon was due to a dance of the Gods of Dawn.
Many scientific hypotheses were proven wrong in the 19th and early 20th Century until, in 1925, scientists at the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh determined that (as Tycho Brahe had pointed out some four centuries earlier without finding proof) the Aurora Borealis is indeed related to magnetism and, in particular, to its effect on the solar wind. This huge stream of charged particles emanating from the Sun is partially deflected from its path by the magnetic field of the Earth and a number of these ions is forced through the ionosphere, i.e. a layer of the high atmosphere very rich in gases that become bright and colourful when an electric current is applied to them (just as in any commercial fluorescent light). Indeed, the different colours that occur in the sky during an auroral display are determined by the chemical nature of the predominant gas in the ionosphere, with oxygen glowing red, nitrogen crimson and a mixture of the two giving the sky the most common yellowish-green colour.
As the origin of the Aurora lies in the ionosphere, that is between 60 km and 240 km above the sea-level, the impression that the lights can be so low as to touch the ground has to be regarded as a mere optical illusion, however beautiful. Auroral displays are most frequent in a thin region around the Arctic and Antarctic Circles, due to the particularly high intensity of the magnetic field of the Earth in the proximity of the Poles and its perpendicularity to the Earth’s surface. However, occasional occurrences have been reported as far South as Rome during periods of particularly intense solar activity. In the 16th Century, in the dark ages of the Counter-Reformation and the Inquisition, a red Aurora appeared in the sky of the Papal City and caused major concern among its population.
A very intriguing phenomenon for photographers, the Northern Lights are most frequently seen in March and September-October in the freezing cold of the Norwegian, Siberian and Canadian countryside, as far away from artificial light as possible to avoid light pollution. Photographers and observers of the Aurora Borealis are therefore always warned against venturing into these areas on their own and groups have to bring powerful flashlights, firecrackers and sometimes even guns with blank rounds along in order to scare the occasional bear away and avoid potentially dangerous close-encounters. In any case, considering the awesome beauty of the Northern Lights, even someone most unwilling to take risks is likely to consider the possibility of defying the cold weather, the remoteness of the places and possibly an occasional bear or two in order to have a chance of admiring Aurora's Winter Waltz.
So, what's on your Must-See List? I'm sure any of you out there can list at least 3 things. Though, when I asked my husband, he didn't know what to say. When inquired further, all he came up with was a Champions League final at Wembley Stadium. And he was the one who suspiciously didn't like soccer when we started to date. Men! :)