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When gods meet in the heavens

It was Galileo Galilei who gave the Northern Lights their Latin name Aurora Borealis. An apt description of the phenomenon that attracts and fascinates us.

While travelling through the inland, on my way home from a meeting in Arvidsjaur, I suddenly have to stop. At Svergoträsk outside Sorsele the skies glow green like neon. Getting out of the car I feel a fresh kind of cold. I stand still and listen. It is as if the northern lights are crackling. Sometimes we say that we can hear the northern lights, but we probably can't. The cold crackles in the trees, in the ice and in the ground.
    It is probably the cold that we can hear rather than the spectacle I am watching. Or perhaps it's just my own imagination, that something so beautiful just has to "crackle". There is no other light, no other car, no house or TV mast as far as the eye can see. There is nothing to disturb the colourful display in the sky. It's just me and nature, in the middle of the forest, that have the chance to enjoy the spectacle from two mythical gods. From where I am standing, the heavens are a gigantic film screen and the silence a thunderous orchestra.

2014/15 will be The Year of the Northern Lights

The forecasts for the northern lights have been good in recent years. So the fact that I am witnessing this crackling display here at Svergoträsk comes as no surprise. 2014 will be a good year, as will 2015. As long ago as August hunters and fishermen, and others who like to be outside and in the forest, saw the northern lights almost every evening. And it has gone on from there.
    And I have seen the sparking display while walking my dog along the banks of the Vindelälven river in Sorsele. But what makes me stop tonight is perhaps rather the fact that the first snow has fallen and reinforces the light. And the northern lights are of course never more majestic than when there are no other phenomena to light up the heavens.

"Be careful what you wish for"

Aurora is moreover the Roman goddess of the dawn. Her siblings are Sol and Luna, the sun and the moon. But for the Greeks, Aurora is also the mother of Anemoi, the winds. Aurora fell in love with the mortal Tithonus. As he grew older, Aurora mourned and asked Jupiter to grant Tithonus eternal life. Aurora's wish was granted but she had forgotten to wish that he be forever young. So Aurora's love became an old man with eternal life. Aurora solved the problem by turning Tithonus into a locust. So be careful what you wish for.

Boreas was hard to tame

Borealis has its origins in Boreas, the Greek name for the north wind . Boreas was no easy god to tame and is often associated with wild horses, untamed and with a fiery temperament. To put it bluntly, the bringer of the cold north wind. Boreas was in love with Orithyia. His love was unrequited but Boreas did not care. In his anger, he carried off Orithyia, who bore him two sons. We might say that Galileo in some way hit the nail on the head when he named the beautiful spectacle after these two gods. Light and untamed power.

Particles from solar storms

The actual formation of the northern lights is no simple matter to explain. But in a few words the phenomenon is made up of particles from solar storms that are pulled into the earth's magnetosphere. When these particles reach our atmosphere they collide with atoms and molecules that are "charged" or at least are given a different kind of energy. Different kinds of atoms produce different kinds of light; the normal greenish glow that I am witnessing today is due to oxygen atoms being affected at an altitude of 100-140 kilometres.

A natural spectacle

The red light is also formed from oxygen atoms, perhaps 200 kilometres up, while violet and blue come from a reaction with nitrogen ions. After a while the cold begins to make itself felt. The light is still as strong as before as I jump into my car to drive home, but I can't stop thinking about the northern lights. Because in spite of seeing them almost every day, and in fact every day when the skies are clear, it is still a fascinating phenomenon to watch on a night like this. And so, as my toes begin to thaw in the warmth of my car, I go back for another look. I stop and enjoy the show for a little while longer. Aurora meeting Boreas. 

More about where and when you can see the northern lights:  which updates solar activity and provides forecasts for the northern lights. 

Sorsele municipality is an excellent choice if you want to enjoy the northern lights undisturbed. Few people, a lot of countryside and good accommodation. Somewhere between the mountains and the forests it is also probable that you will find clear skies, from  Wäckerlins i Gargnäs, via Sorsele River Hotel and Pensionat Holmen in the village to Ammarnäsgården in the west.