More and more people are choosing to venture north during the winter months to try and catch a glimpse of the elusive and beautiful Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights). This natural phenomenon has been fascinating man for thousands of years. While nowadays we have a good understanding of how we can see the lights, how they are produced and the factors that come together to cause this natural light show, there have been quite a few different ideas on what the swirling lights could have meant.
Northern Lights Cruise
Usually departing between October and March, Northern Lights cruises are one of the best way's to see the famous Aurora Borealis. Although we cannot guarantee that you will see them, there are more sightings in the Northern Arctic than anywhere else in the world. The advantage of taking a cruise to see the Northern Lights is that there are few places that promise darker skies, where the lights shine brighter and dance longer than cruise ships sailing in the Arctic Circle during winter.
10 Northern Lights Facts
- The Latinate name for the Northern Lights was first dubbed by not one, but two individuals who both witnessed the phenomenon at the same time in 1621. Galileo Galilei and Pierre Gassendi named the lights ‘Auroea Borealis’; Aurora for the Roman goddess of dawn and Boreas god of the north wind and winter. Galileo didn’t quite fully grasp exactly what caused the lights but did know that the sun was somehow involved.
- During high levels of solar activity between late 2011 and early 2012 the northern lights were spotted as far as southern England to coincide with the sun’s ‘solar flip’.
- According to NASA, the first written mention of the Northern Lights dates back to 2,600BC in Ancient China: "Fu-Pao, the mother of the Yellow Empire Shuan-Yuan, saw strong lightning moving around the star Su, which belongs to the constellation of Bei-Dou, and the light illuminated the whole area."
- There have been reports that not only are the lights beautiful to look at but some individuals have actually heard noises while watching particularly strong displays. Cracking or clapping can be heard and when recorded and amplified it actually sounds quite ethereal.
- On 11th December 1719 the residents of New England, America were witness to flashes of green, red and white lights across the night sky. Without being able to comprehend the science behind natures very own light show, the event caused a great deal of panic; this was only 27 years post-Salem Witch Trials so superstition and God-like signs were still taken as omens to the ends of the earth. Had the residents of New England ventured further north to Alaska or Canada they would have been enlightened that not only was this quite a common occurrence in the winter months but that the world hadn’t ended and is a sight to be enjoyed.
- The southern hemisphere, never one to be outdone by the north, has its own set of lights. The Aurora Australis, or Southern Lights, have been documented as far north as Tasmania. These lights are exceedingly similar to the Northern Lights.
- The very first drawn image of the lights can be traced back to 30,000 years, with a Cro-Magnon man who painted them on cave walls in what became modern-day France. As we are sure you can imagine, with no light pollution at all and with no damage to the ozone layer at this point the lights would probably have been exceedingly vivid and seen far further south than modern day sightings.
- Sometimes the best way to spot the aurora before it becomes visible to the human eye is to take pictures of the sky. Modern cameras with their slower exposure time and optical sensitivity can pick up the magnetic fields and certain dramatic colours much more clearly. However being human has its advantages as cameras cannot pick-up the vivid and fast-moving colours correctly.
- Various cultures have different opinions on what the lights represent. Native American tribes believe the lights to be the spirits of loved ones and whistle up to the skies to call the lights closer to earth in order to whisper messages to their dead relatives. Inuit’s saw the lights as souls playing a version of football with a walrus head. Where as in eastern Greenland the native aboriginals believed the lights were the souls of babies who returned to comfort their parents.
- For many of us, viewing the Northern Lights is definitely on a must-see list of the world’s natural wonders, astronaut Tim Peake captured a stunning time-lapse video of the lights. He filmed the lights while on board the International Space Station and captured what is known as the ‘aurora rise’ – when an individual sees an Aurora rising above the horizon which is easier to do from a space station than earth!
Don’t settle for the many images that have saturated the internet. Why not book a Northern Lights cruise and witness the natural spectacle in person?