© 2023
Prairie Public NewsRoom
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Northern Lights

Northern Lights in McGregor, Minnesota
Lorie Shaull
Licensed under CC BY 2.0.
Northern Lights in McGregor, Minnesota

The northern lights have been unusually active over the past few months. And it appears we may be in for more frequent shows over the next few months.

Thanks to scientific advancements, we know the cause of this interesting phenomenon. But can you imagine how people of northern regions would have explained northern lights before the scientific explanation was determined? Not surprisingly, most if not all cultures of northern regions had a variety of mythologies to explain this phenomenon.

In many mythologies the northern lights are human spirits. To some Canadian First Nation peoples the northern lights were the dancing spirits of humans or perhaps the spirits of animals. Northern lights are even part of the creation myth for some cultures, such as the Algonquin Indians. After creating the world, the great creator headed off to the far north to live, and the northern lights were thought to be the reflections of his large fires that kept him warm and also to show his love for all his creation.

Not surprisingly the Norwegians had some explanations as well. One has them as flickers of the Valkyrior’s (warrior goddesses) armor as they rode the sky on winged horses. Another Norse myth that may have been inspired by northern lights is of the bridge “Bifrost,” a burning, trembling arch that allowed the Gods to travel from the heavens to earth.

Today, of course, we know that northern lights are caused by solar storms that produce strong solar winds. Eventually these solar winds collide with the gases and ions near the magnetic poles forming aurora borealis in the northern hemisphere and aurora australis in the southern hemisphere. The phenomenon is often compared to a neon sign with the gas being the ionosphere (not neon), and the magnetic field acting as a current instead of copper wire.

So be on the lookout for northern lights over the next few months. And watch your local weather reports for predictions. Then go out and enjoy some of these amazing displays. They always seem to elicit a sense of awe and wonder. And while you are out there, give some thought as to how early cultures tried to explain them.

Further Reading on Northern Lights

Chuck Lura has a broad knowledge of "Natural North Dakota"and loves sharing that knowledge with others. Since 2005, Chuck has written a weekly column, “Naturalist at Large,” for the Lake Metigoshe Mirror, and his “The Naturalist” columns appear in several other weekly North Dakota newspapers.
Related Content