The Northern Lights, also known as aurora borealis, appear in the Arctic sky every night, although the human eye cannot always see or distinguish them. Light pollution and clouds, among other things, make auroras harder to see from the surface of the Earth. But in clear weather, they glow above the skies, for example, at the latitude of Kilpisjärvi roughly three nights out of four.
Northern Lights – the science
According to the Arktikum Science Center in Rovaniemi, auroras form when electrically-charged particles from the sun escape into space, a phenomenon known as the solar wind. The Earth’s magnetic field protects us from solar wind by deflecting most of the particles away. However, some of them are absorbed and travel towards the surface of the Earth through polar cusps. When the particles enter the atmosphere, they collide with oxygen and nitrogen and transfer their energy to these atoms. This energy is then discharged as colorful light, which we call the Northern Lights.
Northern Lights – the myths
A familiar sight to to the Sami of old, they used to stop their sleds and remain completely still when the Northern Lights appeared in the sky. According to an old superstition, the Lights could descend from the heavens and steal people away.
According to an ancient Finnish myth, the Northern Lights first came to be when a magical fire fox running along the ground swept his tail across the snowy hills. The sparks flying from the hills sprayed up into the sky and can still be seen as the Northern Lights. The Finnish name for this phenomenon, “revontulet,” literally means “fox fires.”
The Northern Lights usually appear as mostly green in the north but have more shades of red farther south. The stories the Arctic peoples tell often associate auroras with death or the afterlife due to their eerie green color. For example, according to an Inuit tale, the Northern Lights form when the souls of the dead play ball with a walrus skull.
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