Aurora Hunting with ESA

The lovely people of the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Norwegian Space Centre (NOSA or Norsk Romsenter) have invited me to Tromsø in the Arctic Circle to learn more about the aurora and go on nightly expeditions to see the northern lights. I feel very privileged and fortunate. I’m joining 29 others from around the world who ESA have termed the Aurora Hunters.

Here’s an ESA video of the view from the International Space Station.

Of course I’d love to see the aurora from there, but you do have to pay your travel costs to go on this expedition, and that probably makes it prohibitive. I have been to Iceland aurora hunting before, but only caught the faintest glimpse, but then was woken on a translatlantic flight (always book the polar-facing window seat) for a dancing green light show, but I’m sure that’s as nothing compared with what awaits in a couple of weeks. The idea of the expedition is to learn more and then spread the wonder, beauty and understanding of this glorious natural light show wider.

Northern Lights dedicatonI couldn’t help think of Philip Pullman’s first book in the His Dark Materials series which was called Northern Lights in the UK before being rebranded The Golden Compass for the American market and then the movie. Lord Asriel and ultimately Lyra discover that the aurora is a bridge to other parallel worlds, and then bravely venture across. Of course Lyra is helped by an armoured bear – I’ll have to check before I head off whether I’m likely to encounter any polar bears too (with or without extra protection forged from meteorite iron).

On a more serious scientific front, the aurora is an indication of Earth’s magnetic field protecting us from the bombardment of solar storms, funnelling charged particles towards both poles (in the southern hemisphere they’re known as the aurora Australis). The colour is an indication of the chemicals involved with the most common green colouring (visible in the banner on this website) indicative of mainly oxygen.

The Sun which lives for billions of years has a heartbeat of 11 years, during which sunspot activity waxes and wanes. Sunspot activity correlates with aurora, and we’re coming towards the end of the latest recorded maxima (the 25th) meaning there should still be a decent chance of seeing this wonder of the natural world in amazing circumstances.

I’ll post more about it, especially on Twitter, but if you want to know more Stuart Clark’s excellent book The Sun Kings is a terrific read.

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~ by keithmansfield on February 14, 2019.

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