Fall Aurora Watch
"When the mirrie dancers play, they are like to slay"
In Scottish folklore the Northern Lights are known as the Na Fir Chlis – “the Nimble Men” (also known as the Merry Dancers). The Lights were described as epic fights among sky warriors or fallen angels. According to legend, blood from the wounded fell to earth and spotted the “bloodstones” (a variety of jasper) found in the Hebrides. Some North American Inuit call the auroras aqsarniit, or football players, believing they result from spirits of the dead playing football with the head of a walrus!
September and October are some of the best fall months to view the northern lights.
Their southern counterpart, which light up the Antarctic skies in the Southern Hemisphere, are known as the aurora australis.
The British Geological Survey, Aurorawatch UK and US body Space Weather Prediction Centre all monitor heightened opportunities of spotting the aurora due to activity on the surface of the sun.
The aurora is caused by the interaction of solar wind - a stream of charged particles escaping the sun - and Earth's magnetic field and atmosphere. The colors most often associated with the aurora borealis are pink, green, yellow, blue, violet, and occasionally orange and white. Typically, when the particles collide with oxygen, yellow and green are produced. Interactions with nitrogen produce red, violet, and occasionally blue colors.
Auroras have been observed throughout history. Galileo Galilei and Pierre Gassendi witnessed a lights display in 1621, and a reference to the northern lights was made by Gregory of Tours way back in the 500s. The earliest datable account is on a Babylonian clay tablet that recorded observations made by the official astronomers of King Nebuchadnezzar II on the night of 12/13 March 567 BCE of an unusual “red glow.” But the earliest of all might be 30,000-year-old cave paintings that some believe to represent the aurora. The lights were observed and commented on by Benjamin Franklin in 1778 and Edmond Halley, of comet fame, in 1716.
This tartan, by designer Carol A.L. Martin, was inspired by the dance of lights of the Aurora Borealis.
To keep track of aurora sightings in the UK, click the beautiful aurora.