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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

The Living on Earth Almanac

Air Date: Week of

This week, facts about... the Aurora Borealis.


CURWOOD: This time of year some folks start slipping off to winter vacations in balmy tropical climes. But those who decide to head to the high latitudes for a break might get a special reward. That's because the closer you get to the north pole in winter, the better your chance of sighting the Aurora Borealis, commonly known as the Northern Lights. Auroras happen around the globe and around the calendar, but clear, dark skies provide the best conditions for seeing them. Auroras look like glowing rays or ribbons of colored light, sometimes red, blue, or purple, but most often a vivid yellow-green. Some say the aurora effect looks like shifting or "dancing" draperies. Electrically-charged particles from the solar wind interacting with the Earth's magnetic field create the effect. The Northern Lights have sparked plenty of folklore. The Inuit people of the Hudson Bay like to say the aurora are the torches lit by spirits to guide the recently deceased into the heavens. Europeans of the Middle Ages believed the glow reflected the breath of slain warriors. Some observers of the Northern Lights report they hear swishing or staticky crackling sounds, but so far attempts to record those sounds have failed. And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.



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