AURORA BOREALIS IN ALASKA (Historic Information)

Polar Auroras are of two spheres, those of the north, known as Aurora Borealis, and of the south as Aurora Australis. I will refer to those of the north only.

The Aurora has been classified and subdivided by many, but after all it is but a matter of degree or extent.

For practical purposes it may be divided, first including those extending far south and manifesting more magnetic and electric force; and last, those of less height, more local and producing little or no magnetic or electrical disturbances.

Almost a hundred authors have written as many different theories as to what the Auroras are and their cause, etc., including:

First Divine. They have frightened the human race for all ages, and history is full of ghost-like tales.

Second Polar ice radiating at night, the light absorbed during the day. (Disproven by the polariscope. showing that they are direct and not reflected rays.)

Third The movement of polar ice upon which the sun reflected. (Also disproven.)

Fourth Phossophoriscent light.

Fifth Luminous gases.

Sixth Foggy weather near the poles.

Seventh Same as sun halos. (Refuted by polariscope.)

Eighth Caused by sun-spots. (This theory has many more advocates than most of the others, although the Auroras have occurred so adversely to the sun-spots some years that they seem to prove no reliable cause.)

Ninth Magnetic forces. To which many tenable reasons can be as signed, such as the effect upon the magnetic needle; the origin or home of the Auroras being generally in the vicinity of the magnetic pole (westerly side of Smith Straits and north of Baffins Bay, as first located, or 96 degrees west of Greenwich and 70 degrees north latitude on Boothia Felix Land, as fixed by Amundsen, 1906).

Tenth Foreign neobula or meteoric substance coming into our atmosphere, being magnetized, electrified, or illuminated. (A moment's thought by any student will conclusively disprove such theory.)

Eleventh Light from other and far distant planets.

Twelfth Light upon cirius or snow clouds in very high altitude.

Thirteenth Electricity, (of which many actions of the Aurora remind the observer), has many modern-day advocates.

To all who have watched the Aurora generally appearing from and retiring to the vicinity of the magnetic pole; moving the magnetic needle (to my knowledge as much as ten degrees in one instance) ; disturbing telegraph, telephone, cable and wireless, as well as other magnetized or electrified apparatus, the theory that the Aurora is closely connected with electricity and magnetism will be accepted.

Only the great Auroras extend far south, and the magnetic and electric force is more noticeable (possible, however, because we have more instruments to affect and men to report), than in the Alaskan country.

The magnificent Auroras of 1859 and 1872 are the only ones on record to my knowledge that seemed to extend from pole to pole, and actually covered the whole earth.

As a rule they are seen but about once in Gulf of Mexico, five times in San Francisco and ten in Dakota per year, while east of the mountains of Alaska and the Arctic Sea they are observed about 1 00 times annually.

Whalers and Arctic explorers have reported them still more frequent nearer the magnetic pole.

The Alaskan Pacific Coast and Aleutian Islands are so continually clouded over that the Auroras are infrequently seen there.

Explorers in the far north, above the magnetic pole, report the Auroras as coming from the south. Others wintering near the magnetic pole report them as being so low as to have been observed shining under the clouds, and as appearing from various points of the compass.

Frequently the clear Alaskan night reveals a sight that fills the observer with awe. We know the warming, cheerful effect of the sun. the fright and fear of the storm and lightning, the amazement of the mirage, the dread of the volcano and earthquake, and even of the moon's silent influence.

But the Alaskan Aurora brings forth the genuine goose-punple, hair-raising, reverential feeling that all other phenomena combined can not produce.

Clouds of light, waves of light, oceans of light, ripples, flames, darts, chains, snakes, and halos of light; ultra-violet, whitish-yellow, green, purple, and flame-lige light.

Light that enables you to read at night, dims the the stars, threatens to fire the earth, the heavens, and to stick its darts of lightning into you.

You can sec battles as it advances and retreats. You think of Milton's Paradise Lost, Dante's Inferno and the threats of dire and awful punishment of the wicked as pictured to you by the old testament or expounded by some out-of-date, self-made preacher. If to all these the light and beauty of the Glorified Throne as seen or related by John the Revelator could be added, then the scene could hardly excel the actual sight of one of these Great Auroras, made greater, grander and more effective by the long night, lonesome camp, frost-locked and silent environments of this Arctic-like land, Alaska.

As you look with open-mouthed awe, every sense is so alert that you hear its electric spark snap (or think you do), feel its thrusts of lightning (or think you do). Then it disappears (or you think it does), but instantly it comes again, until by the indescribable panoramic fire, one is hypnotized almost into another existence.

While Mr. Hall was wintering in Frobisher Bay, near the magnetic pole, he witnessed an Aurora which he describes in his "Arctic Researches" as follows:

"Then I tried to picture the scene before me. Piles of golden light and rainbow light, scattered along the azure vault, extended from behind the western horizon to the zenith; thence down to the eastern, within a belt of space 20 degrees of width, with fountains of beams, like fire threads, that shot with the rapidity of lightning hither and thither, upward and athwart the great pathway indicated. No sun, no moon, yet the heavens were a glorious sight, flooded with light. Even ordinary print could have been easily read on the deck. Flooded with rivers of light. Yes, flooded with light. And such light! Light all but inconceivable. The golden hues predominated. But in rapid succession prismatic colors leaped forth. We looked, we saw. and trembled; for. even as we gazed, the whole belt of the Aurora began to be alive with flames. Then each pile or bank of light became myriads; some now dropping down the great pathway or belt, others springing up, others leaping with lightning flash from one side, while more as quickly passed into the vacated space; some, twisting themselves into folds, entwining with others like enormous serpents, and all these movements as quick as the eye could follow. It seemed as if there was a struggle with these heavenly lights to reach and occupy the dome above our heads. Then the whole arch above became crowded. Down, down it came; nearer and nearer it approached us. Sheets of golden flame, coruscating while leaping from the Auroral belt, seemed as if met in their course by some mighty agency that turned them into the colors of the rainbow, each of the seven primary, three degrees in width, sheeted out to twenty-one degrees; the prismatic bows at right angles with the belt. While the Auroral fires seemed to be descending upon us, one of our number could not help exclaiming, 'Hark! Hark! Such a display! Almost as if a warfare was going on among the beautious lights above so palpable, so near seems impossible without noise.' But no noise accompanied this wonderous display. All was silence."

And again Mr. Hall says:

"But the northern lights, in their eternally shifting liveliness, flame over the heavens each day and each night. Look at them; drink oblivion and drink hope from them; they are even as the aspiring soul of man restless as it.

"They will wreathe the whole vault of heaven with their glittering, fleeting light, surpassing all else in their wild loveliness, fairer than even the blush of dawn, but whirling idly through empty space they bear no message of a coming day.

"The sailor stears his course by star. Could you but concentrate yourselves, you, too, O Northern Lights! might lend your aid to guide the bewildered wanderer. But dance on and let me enjoy you. Stretch a bridge across the gulf between the present and the time to come, and let me dream far, far ahead into the future.

Oh thou mysterious radiance! What are thou and whence comest thou? Yet why ask? Is it not enough to admire thy beauty and pause there? Can we at best get beyond the outward show of things? What would it profit even if we could say, that it is an electric discharge or current of electricity through upper regions of air, and able to describe in minutest detail how it all came about, it would be mere words. We know no more what the electric current really is, than what the Aurora Borealis is. And happy is the child. * * * We with all our views and theories are not in the last analyses a hair's breadth nearer the truth than it."

Although this is Mr. Hall's statement a half century ago, so far as the Aurora is concerned, it could be made now.

In the land of Seward, every Alaskan who remains over winter witnesses the long night, the midnight sun, the clear air, the frost/ stillness, the peculiar moon and that awful monotonous loneliness and if he returns with unimpaired reason will corroborate what I have said about the Alaskan Aurora and add that no pen can fully and justly describe it, nor can any artist but the God of the Universe paint such a picture.

The Aurora is not the only awe-producing phenomena of Alaska. The Creator of the long night provided a great silver moon, and a big red sun three or four times larger than they are down in the States and seemingly so close that one is almost afraid.

The feeling that enrobes one while a death-like silence pervades everything in a lonely land, and the thermometer registers sixty below or the mercury is frozen, can be experienced, but not told.

Back to Table of Contents