Tuesday, July 7, 2015

They keep telling me that it is vacation time and I should be going somewhere but what do you do when the most magical place to visit is in the winter? You make plans in the summer. It is called the Aurora Borealis which is the proper name for what we know as the northern lights. To see them at their best you have to visit far north in the winter. You need to dress well to feel comfortable in 20 degrees below but the effort should be worth the trouble. In Fairbanks Alaska it is almost always cold anyway. Cold is good because it usually means clear skies and that can open the window to the most natural of wonderful.

The northern lights have been dancing in the sky for as long as the earth has been gliding around the son.  From the International Space Station, time lapse photos have shown how impressive the show really is. Why don’t they show this footage at Imax Theaters all the time? It would save me the trouble of an Alaskan Vacation. There is a tour company that will escort you to the best locations at the best times to witness the natural beauty of the sky. You will climb in the dead of night on icy roads to 2,600 feet up a mountain for a picture perfect vision. The tour guides are in a constant state of wow and they love their jobs. It is better than any drug. Just take the road to Prudhoe Bay.

The natural high can be overwhelming in a good way. Your emotions just take over your body and you suddenly realize how insignificant you really are in the scope of the world and these still largely unexplained lights.  It can be the ultimate spiritual experience for you if you let it. The one other ultimate experience   for me was when I saw a human baby emerge from my wife’s innards and the boy looked somewhat like me. To me that was the ultimate magic ta da act.  Yet the Northern Lights are like a neon sign without the tube.

It all begins with the son’s solar winds. They send highly charged particles hurdling through space but pull toward the earth’s magnetic poles. It is the collision between those particles and our own atmosphere that create that unusual glow. We have the Aurora Borealis in the north and the Aurora Australasia in the south. When you see the shapes you are literally seeing the magnetic field lines being blown around by the wind. The Aurora can only be seen during the winter months. In some years, the activity is better than others. There is no guarantee you will ever see a display but when it is there it is captivating. Alaskan natives believe the lights are the spirits of their ancestors.

The research range  in Fairbanks was built specifically to study the Aurora.  The main road is named after its long time director Neal Brown. They used photography to document the colors. The current nagging question is, Does this light show make a sound? They have never succeeded in recording the changes . Yet there are hundreds of reports going back to 2 hundred years of people hearing the lights move and their stories have been consistent throughout the years. Last January they launched rockets right into the Aurora to try to find better answers. Catching the best part or time of the lights is a challenge for scientists and tour guides. People come from all over the world to catch that glimpse. Don’t let life pass you by go find it.

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