Standing Under the Aurora

Under an auroal display in 2004 above a Harstad (Norway) communications tower (NASA)

Under an auroal display in 2004 above a Harstad (Norway) communications tower (Frank Andreassen/NASA)

In 2002, I remember standing on the ice-crusted snow in Svalbard, looking up, in awe of what I was seeing. Dancing overhead, stretching from horizon to horizon was my first aurora. Predominantly green and highly structured against the inky black 24 hour night, the highly dynamic plasma danced, much like a curtain in the wind. Occasionally, I would see the ribbons of green scatter, forming a radiant pattern, much like today’s NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD), above.

Seven years ago, I was studying the interaction between the solar wind and the Earth’s upper polar atmosphere with four friends for five months at The University Centre in Svalbard, and it is an experience I’ll never forget. Seeing this dazzling view from a communications tower in northern Norway stirs some amazing memories of my stay on this unique island in the high arctic, watching the light generated as the solar plasma spiralled down Earth’s magnetic field, interacting with our atmosphere.

From that magical day onward, I never underestimated the beauty of physics again

3 responses to “Standing Under the Aurora

  1. Saw this APOD pic on my iGoogle page and stumbled across your site from this week’s Carnival. Looks like the front end of a starship traveling through warp space.

    I need to add “Viewing the aurora” to my list of life’s TODOs.

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