14 September, 1997

Before going to bed last night I told Nick my disappointment at not seeing the northern lights. When we first boarded the Louis the nights were never totally dark. The photo shows how light it was just two weeks ago at midnight. Each day the sun set about twenty minutes earlier and for the past few days the middle of the night has been dark enough for viewing, however, the sky has been overcast.

At 3:30 am, I woke to the sound of Nick pounding on my door shouting the "northern lights are visible". When I got on deck I was mesmerized for a half-hour by a greenish white band of light dancing across the sky. Then something struck me, the North Star was behind me, and the light show was in the south! I went up to the bridge to continue watching the sky and chat with the First Mate. He told me that the lights always appeared in the southern sky in the high Arctic and the closer the ship was to the magnetic pole, the less they were seen.

During the course of the next day I learned some interesting facts about the amazing Northern Lights. The lights that seemed like low clouds were actually sixty miles above the earth's surface, ten times higher than the highest clouds. They were caused when energetic parcticles from the sun became trapped in the earth's magnetic field and collided with atmospheric oxygen and nitrogen, which emitted the colors. The aurora oval appears as a curtain of colored lights, about 1000 miles in diameter, that circle both the north and south magnetic poles.

When I was on the deck this morning, the ship's position was well inside the aurora oval, which explains why the lights appeared to the south. The time spent watching Aurora Borealis will be one of my more memorable experiences.

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