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Flickering curtains of green, red, yellow or blue color dancing on the night sky. Most people that ever had the luck to experience Northern Lights will agree that this show performed by mother nature is simply breathtaking. Northern Lights are definitely one of the most spectacular light show on earth that is created by nature. They are indeed an elusive, magical phenomenon. When you for the first time see them dancing around the entire sky above you and change shapes and colors within a short time period, you will understand what we talk about.
Although they can possibly occur at any time of the day, Northern Lights are usually seen at night when darkness occurs. It has been said that the lights can be so bright that one is able to read a newspaper underneath them during the night. The best time of the year to see them is between late fall and early spring. However, since nature is not always predictable it is not possible to make forecasts on aurora activity (click here to learn more about aurora forecasts).
The scientific name for Northern Lights is Aurora Borealis. The name Aurora Borealis is Latin and can be translated into “the dawn of the north”. Aurora was a Roman goddess of dawn and Boreas is Greek for the north wind. During the 13th century, Norwegians used the name “Northern Lights” for the first time. In the following both names – aurora and Northern Lights- are used.
Since Northern Lights are such a magical phenomenon it is not a surprise that there exists a tremendous amount of stories and legends about them. People through different time periods have explained the lights as among other things a sign from dead women, light from gods’ kingdoms, something evil and dancing spirits (read more on this topic here). Early documentation of Northern Lights can already be found during the Stone Age. Carvings displaying Northern Lights have been found in a cave, which is located in today’s France. However, the question about what causes them was long unanswered.
Attempts to explain the Northern Lights continued to change over time and it wasn’t until the end of the 19th century that someone succeeded. Kristian Birkelund, who was a Norwegian scientist finally found the correct explanation for this phenomenon. His theories were based on many expeditions in Norway and on the photographs he took of Northern Lights during these expeditions. He was actually the first one to capture Northern Lights on photographs. A short sum up of his explanation can be found in the Section How do they form. Aurora is not only visible on earth, but also on a handful of other planets such as Jupiter. Moreover, there is a lively discussion whether Northern Lights have their own sounds or not. However, until this day this discussion is not settled yet.