Above our heads, a spectacle was unfolding that was so stunning, some of us started to yell, while others just watched in awe. The vague streaks of green light we had seen before, had developed into bright green, white, and sometimes purple lines in the sky, moving through space with great speed. It looked like incredible storms were pushing the lights up and down, it looked like an invisible hand was shaking the stripes up and down, they grew and shrank in height so fast we could almost not keep up with it. They were all around us: while looking north to see green lines, a huge curtain of purple and white ones would be just overhead. It made us nervously scan space, especially when the aurora borealis was visible in all directions. The lights move fast, appearing and disappearing, and come in very different shapes. We saw enormous curtains of northern lights, seemingly starting at the earth's surface, but also long lines, or circles. We saw powerful beams of light being projected right into space, almost making it look like someone had put immensely strong lamps on the earth. At this high latitude, with no cities anywhere near, the sky was almost perfectly clear, and very intense lights came off the planets and stars high above us to make for a dazzling décor of the aurora borealis show. We all forgot the cold around us; the spectacle was too exciting to be bothered by earthly trivialities.
We tried to imagine how people would have seen northern lights several centuries ago, when not much was known about it - much less than in our days, when still lots of questions remain. It is easy to see how they would believe in supernatural powers and God to create the spectacular display of lights, which to them was probably also scary at the same time. Old Finns believed the lights were caused by a mythical fox swaying his tail in the sky, the Lapps thought the lights were caused by the deceased. Vikings and Eskimos believed the lights were caused by dancing spirits, or by the dead playing soccer in the sky with a walrus skull. Still, already Aristotle thought they had to do with reactions in the atmosphere; and indeed, the phenomenon is caused by photons emitted by solar winds, attracted by the magnetic poles of Earth - and other planets. On Earth, they collide in our higher atmosphere with nitrogen or oxygen, resulting in the different colours we can see from the ground. Even though the northern lights seem close, they occur at altitudes between 100 and 400km above the earth.
The adventure of seeing the aurora borealis had started a few days before. After my plane had diverted to Luleå because Kiruna airport had closed following the loss of a military plane, I had watched a first show of northern lights near the northernmost city of Sweden, and after setting off with my friends to Abisko, we had stopped on the way, in the middle of nowhere, to a first taste of the awesome northern lights show. It was a great start of our trip, and we were already happy with what we had seen: much more than we could have imagined on our first night. The next day, even though the skies were clouded and we had had some snow during the day when we had been skiing, the clouds miraculously disappeared in the evening, as if lifting the curtains for the magnificent display of aurora borealis. The same happened the second day, but the intensity of the northern lights we had seen before, would not come back again. We had been very lucky to have seen such a powerful performance of northern lights and were totally satisfied when we headed back home.
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Abisko Northern Lights (Sweden). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Abisko Northern Lights.
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