Today i’ll talk about urban legends of aurora borealis, which i found to be quite untrue, like if northern lights are only visible in winter, or when it is cold
For more informations about the best period to see northern lights and how to organize a trip, i have written an extensive guide dedicated in particular to Iceland, but which can also be partially applied to other countries too This guide can be read here:
Here we go!
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MYTH 1: AURORA BOREALIS CAN BE SEEN ONLY IN WINTER
I personally witnessed a very good aurora borealis and even a solar storm during end of August, September, and even first days of April (the solar storm happened on Friday 11th, 2015). It can’t be a coincidence…… Some studies have demonstrated that during equinoxes sunspots are still active and even higher in number.
Sunspots are the phenomenons happening on the surface of the sun, responsible for releasing electrons inside the earth’s atmosphere, which in turn causes the presence of the northern lights, together with other phenomenons like coronal mass ejections.
For this reason, together with the fact that during equinoxes in northern countries like Iceland or Norway there are already enough hours of dark night respect to june and july when there’s the midnight sun, i can conclude that northern lights, as witnessed by myself, can be seen from end of august to the beginning of april (the shots of this article has been taken during these 2 periods and not during winter)
What it really changes of course, is that in winter the hours of dark night are more in number, thus the chances to see it slightly increases. However, we are talking about chances, which is different from saying that in equinoxes aurora is not visible at all
This is a picture depicting the KP Index of the solar storm which happened in September 2015 while i was there, which created an impressive northern lights in the sky, dancing and twisting with violence
And this of course is a picture of a strong northern lights which happened in September 2015 during that solar storm indicated above
MYTH 2: THE MORE IS COLD, THE BETTER THE CHANCE TO SEE AURORA
As said on the previous paragraph, i personally witnessed a very good aurora borealis during end of August, September, and even first days of April. For some strange reason, since many people believe that northern lights can be seen only in winter, probably someone has associated the appearance of the aurora with the temperature of the air.
Northern lights depends by the sun activity (like sunspots irradiations, coronal mass ejections and not only), thus there’s nothing related to the cold temperature, apart from the fact that probably, a cold night could eventually present a greater viewing distance with a more clear sky (although i’m not personally able to “quantify” this advantage)
MYTH 3: AURORA BOREALIS CAN BE SEEN ONLY WITHIN THE POLAR ARCTIC CIRCLE
Not completely true….
In fact, Iceland for example, apart from the island of Grimsy, is situated outside the Arctic Circle, and secondly, in some particular rare instances, northern lights reached Italy and other countries at similar latitude. These are very rare phenomenons but still not impossible.
When the sun produces a very intense activity, the aurora is so powerful that it starts to go beyond the common boundaries of the Polar Arctic Circle by almost reaching the Equator.
When this happens, if it’s particularly strong, the phenomenon can also takes the name of Carrington event
As a proof, following is a link to some pictures which showing northern lights seen from Cortina D’ampezzo, Italian Alps in 2003
MYTH 4: THE MORE YOU GO CLOSER TO NORTH POLE, THE BETTER THE CHANCE
Seems false, for 2 reasons:
- aurora borealis moves around the magnetic North Pole, not the geographic North Pole, and the magnetic pole is situated more toward Greenland. So eventually, the right statement would be “the more you go closer to magnetic north pole, and the better the chance”. However, the statement still looks not completely exact due to the following point….
- aurora borealis presents a ring shape, which of course is empty in the middle. For this reason, by going too close to North Pole (both geographic or magnetic), at least from what graphs show, seems to reduce again the chances in the same way that happens when someone moves toward the Equator. So it looks like there’s a precise optimal latitude at which northern lights can be seen, and this latitude, more or less, coincide with that of places like Iceland, Greenland, and Alaska
This is a representation of the auroral oval showing this concept of the “emptiness” in the middle:
MYTH 5: AURORA BOREALIS PRODUCES A SOUND
The thing is still under study with a nice degree of skepticism. I personally never heard anything. Furthermore, many times in northern countries the wind is always enough high to produce a whistle, so i find difficult to be able to hear something from aurora.
Apart from that, scientists agree that there should be no sound produced although in some recent studies someone stated that the sound could be the result of the aurora geomagnetic field reflecting itself toward street lights and other metallic things, but i personally saw it many times, without hearing anything.
Theoretically speaking, the sound produced can be in the form of a short bang, or something crackling. However, by saying that, it would be very easy in turn for a tourist or someone with a great fantasy to associate every single noise he hears to the northern lights. Proving that a sound is really coming from northern lights is still a challenge and totally another story
In turn, to sustain the “no sound” hypothesis, i found interesting to see that someone has tried to use dedicated instruments to capture aurora sound……well….i don’t understand this point….if some witness claimed that he has heard a sound, why should we need a special instrument to capture it? if human ear is really able to perceive it, theoretically a common sound recorder should be enough
Don’t know what to say regarding this, despite that scientists are still skeptic and that human mind is really prone to be easily suggestioned by fascinating things like ufo, aliens, and so on. We shouldn’t forget that for ages people believed that aurora was the appearance of valkyries
At this link, there is a video with a sound recorded during northern lights. Not sure about it, but it could be some sort of proof: Northern lights sounds explained
MYTH 6: AURORA BOREALIS IS DANGEROUS FOR HUMAN HEALTH
Well, don’t know if it’s true, anyway that could be easy to understand. If this is true, i expect all people who live in places like Iceland or north of Norway to be affected by tumors and cancers with an incidence higher than the rest of the world due to irradiation of northern lights…..i haven’t found this sort of evidence although someone has compared the power of aurora borealis reaching the ground to that of many mobile antennas…..
In particular, regarding the great debate of mobile devices use and their health problems connected to their radiations, with aurora borealis the situation is totally different. Infact while we don’t have an extensive archive of data which can lead us to understand how dangerous mobile phones are for our health because their introduction is still too much recent (reason why this great debate is still open among scientists) northern lights has always existed since centuries. So, if it was dangerous for health, lot of people would have already died in places like Iceland and we would have had already enough evidence to prove it
From one side this theory sounds potentially correct, because when solar storms happen, wireless devices can be affected by interferences, at the point that in the past companies have alerted users about this (it happened to me too), and this is a signal that the effect of northern lights (or to be more precise of the solar irradiation which causes it) can effectively reach people and (at least), their devices
However, as long as noone will provide a real evidence, i don’t see any reason to be particularly worried. When ideas are not supported by historical or actual recognized statistics, i don’t see any reason to sustain such statement
MYTH 7: AURORA BOREALIS IS AN OPTICAL ILLUSION LIKE AN OASIS
Absolutely not. Aurora borealis is the result of gases in the atmosphere, like Oxygene and Nitrogen, which produce light when they are impacted by the electrons released in the atmosphere by the sun irradiation. The effect of their impact produces photons, which are, in short terms, light particles which are visible to the human eye. Something similar happens when someone turns on a neon light through the room switch
MYTH 8: AURORA BOREALIS IS THE ARRIVAL OF VALKYRIES
From one side science has brought a veil of sadness in the world. Those believing in romantic legends have been surely disappointed by the recent discoveries of science. It would have been beautiful to continue to believe that aurora is caused by the influence of Valkyries, as well as that the rain was the result of the rain dances of native americans. I’m sorry that the true is a little bit more…..tangible……aurora is just the result of the solar activity on the surface of the sun which influences the earth atmosphere, nothing to do with nordic ancient legends
MYTH 9: AURORA BOREALIS APPEARS IN THE SPACE
No, northern lights take place inside the atmosphere in a range which goes from 80 to 300km (more or less) from the ground of the earth. The exact layer where it appears is called thermosphere, and it lies between the exosphere which is the last layer above, and the mesosphere which is the next one below and the last one where usually clouds can climb over (those capable to reach the mesosphere are usually called noctilucent clouds)
MYTH 10: AURORA BOREALIS APPEARS UNDER THE CLOUDS
No, aurora can appear only above the clouds. This is because the highest known clouds are called “noctilucent” and are situated in the mesosphere, which is the layer just beneath the one where northern lights appears, the thermosphere. Furthermore, the most known clouds usually appear inside the troposphere, which is the lowest layer of atmosphere, more than the mesosphere where occasionally the noctilucent clouds can be seen
So, concluding, if the sky is cloudy, game ove……….ehm, ok, you won’t believe this….i saw it from the airplane while flying to iceland……beneath was almost cloudy, but since i was onboard of the aircraft, i was able to spot it! i suppose this would be the only way to do it if it’s cloudy!
MYTH 11: AURORA CAN BE TRAVERSED WITH AN AIRPLANE
Impossible, at least for now. The worldwide record of altitude reached by an aircraft has been made, as per Wikipedia suggestion, by Alexandr Fedotov onboard of a russian Mig-25, at an altitude of around 37Km. Aurora starts to appear from an altitude of 80Km
Anyway, yes, as indicated above, it can be seen from an airplane
MYTH 12: TO SEE AURORA, A SPECIAL HOUSE WITH A GLASS ROOF IS NEEDED, OTHERWISE YOU WILL GET FROZEN
I’m still laughing for this belief. At least in my country, Italy, the first things that people think to when talking about northern lights is always the same……wow…..must be cold!!! brrrrrrrrrrrrr……watch out to not get frozen!! Well…..Iceland is not that cold, and aurora borealis can be seen also in autumn and the very beginning of spring, and also in Norway, Tromso, near Cape North, where i went in the middle of February, the temperature was not that cold, in a way that i only needed to drink a cup of hot tea around every hour.
Apart from that, i was able to stay outside on the beach and look at the sky for the entire night til 3 o’clock Why is that so? because both Norway and Iceland, two great places to see northern lights, are influenced by the warm temperature of the Mexican Gulf stream, by lowering the impact of the cold
An example of this? the historical minimum temperature of places like Tromso and Reykjavik has been warmer than -20°C (around -16°C for Reykjavik, data available on www.weatherbase.com), countrary to other places like Anchorage in Alaska, or some canadian cities like Toronto which are more inhabited, where the historical minimum has touched almost -40°C
Can’t wait for my next aurora trip! i’m in love with it!
Thanks for reading!
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