Aurora Borealis – What is it?
Look up at the sky, a clear and starry night. The atmosphere that gives us our blue skies during the day seems to be pulled aside, giving you a clear view of the universe around us. When you witness Aurora Borealis you are actually seeing the rather invisible night time atmosphere beautifully illuminated. Understanding how Aurora Borealis is created takes you on a journey into space, all the way to the sun. It is here the first half of the story starts. The sun ejects a steady stream of high-energy particles. The amount of particles increases from time to time, that which we call solar storms. The other half of the phenomena is hosted by Earth itself, its atmosphere and magnetosphere. The atmosphere contains a variety of particles and molecules, mostly nitrogen and oxygen. The magnetosphere is generated by the Earth’s iron core, like a large magnet. The plus pole and minus pole create magnetic field lines, dipping down in oval formations around the north and south poles. When the charged particles from the sun surge towards Earth, they can become captured in the magnetic field lines and are pulled downwards towards the poles. On their way down, they collide with the particles in the atmosphere. The transfer of energy from solar particles to atmospheric particles results in the breathtaking light show of the aurora.
Abisko is often mentioned as the best place on Earth to see the aurora. Why is that?
Well, the geology, topography and history of Abisko all play important roles. First of all, the auroral oval, created by the interaction of solar particles, atmosphere and magnetic field lines, happens to usually run right over Abisko. In addition, the mountain range to the west forces precipitation-heavy air to rise when moving towards Abisko. Before arriving, it dumps the majority of rain or snow on the mountainsides. Thus the air here is unusually clear year round. Add to that the exciting cultural and scientific history of Abisko, stemming partly from early mining investments, bringing the railroad for shipping off ore from Narvik in Norway. Along with the railroad came the curious, both scientists and tourists, all fascinated by this unique subarctic wilderness landscape and of course the mystery of Aurora Borealis. Over 100 years of continuous transportation, research and the beautiful national park have enriched the lives of people from around the world. Welcome to an experience only found in Abisko!
For as long as Earth has had its atmosphere and the sun has shined, there have been auroras. When man arrived and eventually wandered north, the sight of the auroras must have been the mystery of mysteries. What went through these first people’s heads? Aside from the occasional comet, eclipse and other celestial event, the auroras were a wintertime staple and thus woven into ancient religions and folklore. The people living under the auroral oval, from Alaska, Canada, Greenland, Iceland, Scandinavia to Russia, all have tales to instil fear, respect and reverence for these dancing lights. The most common tales are that these are the awakenings, messages or simply tracks from a football game from long-gone relatives, forefathers.