I’ve written before about the appeal of the graphs and diagrams plotting northern lights activity. A diagram I often refer to is the ‘Magnetometer’, which in its simplicity reminds me of the kind of graph that might be used to indicate the scale of an exaggeration told by someone on a TV show, as measured by a relative listening behind the screen. A green line (honesty), a red line (fairness), and a black line (embarrassment) can go off the scale when someone tells a tall tale. So it is with the northern lights. I don’t know what the lines really represent, only that when they wriggle and leap away from a straight line (‘solar quiet’), there may be aurora.
Last night there were two separate groups of people here desperate to see the northern lights. They had postponed all other activity so as to be well placed to catch a glimpse, however slight, whenever those tricky devils might appear. They had their hopes set higher than normal (and normal is, it seems, very high) because I’d received a special message from the heavens that this night would be a very good night for aurora. I was told by a special messenger that a filament had erupted on the sun, resulting in a coronal mass ejection, a proportion of which was heading to the earth. My special messenger is based in Holland, and I don’t know who he is, but I’m on his mailing list and that makes me feel very special indeed.
So there we all were, alcohol avoided – so that if the chance came, and it warranted driving out somewhere to get a better look, we could do so. Rolf and I downstairs, one set of guests upstairs, and in another room, another guest. We all had an early meal, and were at home, waiting. The computer screen/I-pad/I-phones were set to the local sky camera so we could watch developments. All we could see was a giant cheese, the sky covered in lumpy white cloud. And so it was all night.
At breakfast I asked about the previous night, how they’d all got on. Rolf and I had given up and gone to bed, but our guests had gone out, hoping to find a cloud free place and a bit of luck. They hadn’t found a cloud free place, or a bit of luck, but they had driven around in the dark for a few hours, getting out the car now and again to examine the sky. The excitement of waiting. ‘Ah well,’ I said, ‘the northern lights are a journey, not a destination’. They shot me ‘a look’. Not so sure how well that comment went down. I checked the magnetometer again to see what developments there’d been. None it seemed – predictions are notoriously unreliable, especially when it comes to estimating the time a ‘coronal mass ejection’ might hit the earth.
But at 7am this morning, according to the magnotometer, the lines began to wriggle, then leap, and now one of them has even exited the scale. This is a challenge. The fact is they are there, those northern lights, making fantastic electrical shapes in the sky, and shooting out and flowing in all directions. It’s just that we can’t see them because it’s daylight. I look up and try to imagine – not easy. Someone ought to invent a northern light viewer – like a kaleidoscope that you can hold up to the sky and that detects northern light activity in the daytime. That’s a business opportunity – I’m throwing it out here hoping someone will follow it up..