I'm curious whether anyone else in the northern latitudes saw the
astonishing display of northern lights last night?
I watched from the south shore of Lake Mendota, here on Madison's
isthmus, from a small dark strip of James Madison Park. Stood there
among 50,000 giant starving mosquitos to watch an incredible display:
sheet-light, torch-shimmer, wiggly glowsnakes, cathedral sky (all
technical terms of course)...all in the most
>>> glorious phosphorescent green <<<.
The same color that, when you go ice skating outdoors at 40 below on
a really clear night, so your skate-blades sing like violin strings,
and they turn off the Kleig lights when the warming house closes,
and you get down on your hands and knees and cup your hands around
your eyes and leeeaaan in real close to the ice--that glow in the
ice, the teeny critters matrixed there returning to the cold dark
Void their little bit of hoarded light. That very green.
Last night's aurora was so intense that it reflected in the calm
waters of Lake Mendota.
I was so excited I couldn't get to sleep afterwards. :^)
Fortunately there were a few other folks in the park who
corroborated the evidence of my senses: it was so grand, it was hard
to believe it was real. And I checked with some aurora watchers, who
confirmed a sturdy level of activity last night here.
Auroral activity usually indicates sunspot activity (ionizing
radiation from the solar wind hitting the upper atmosphere of the
earth). Which generally affects, oh, crops and world economics.
I also would like to add to this ongoing yummy stew of discussion
around people's ability to observe not always matching science's
ability to explain or predict, the following Web site on auroral
The last time I saw the aurora was in northern Vermont in the early
80s, on the northest of the Lake Champlain island chain. It was as
clear, calm, and lovely as last night, and so quiet there that I
could hear a hissing rustle that rose and fell as the lights did. I
learned later about the physics of aurora, and concluded what I had
heard was approximately the sound of solar plasma, tickling the
earth's thin skin of air. Many people (including the natural
scientists at Penn that I hung out with at the time) told me that
simply wasn't possible, that no one had ever proven that
scientifically. When I pointed out the flaw in the thinking--that
proof or explanation does not equal truth or observation, and that
just because the evidence of my senses *might* be wrong doesn't mean
it *must* be wrong--they got cranky and Gary-Larson-lab-guyish, so I
Some years later I was in a small inn on the fishing island of Grand
Manan, in the Bay of Fundy. I met an old Canadian woman, very much
the Georgian type, from the mainland (St. Andrews I believe). Veddy
British. We were having orange spice tea in the sitting room,
shaking off a moor-walking chill, next to the Franklin stove. We were
talking about things nautical, agricultural, and natural. We came
around to the aurora, and I mentioned having heard it. She put her
cup of tea on the sea-chest next to the sofa, sat up straight, and
said, "But of *course* you heard it!" She looked positively adamant.
She pursed her lips as though I'd predicted divorce for Chuck and Di,
then said: "Of *course* you heard it! Anyone who knows how to LISTEN
will hear it!" Have you ever heard the aurora, I asked. "I have
heard it many times. And each time, it was very much the same. Like
the rustling of taffeta from far away."
Now that I have more experience with Alberta Clippers and polar cold
and the Varieties of Winter, I'd compare the sound of the northern
lights to the hissing of ice crystals on a completely still January
day, about two hours before the thick soft feathers of a hoarfrost
start to return to the air.
Michele Gale-Sinex, communications manager
Center for Integrated Ag Systems
UW-Madison College of Ag and Life Sciences
Voice: (608) 262-8018 FAX: (608) 265-3020
Community--that's what Jah say. --Alpha Blondy
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