Shining a light on auroras
ONCE upon a 20th- century time I was travelling through the dark Canadian prairies. Much to my mesmerised delight I saw the Aurora Borealis.
It was not a magnificent and multi- coloured sky show, however. Rather it was relatively small and at an angle of about 75 degrees took the form of everchanging amber prisms.
Even to my secular mind that looks to a scientific explanation for such a phenomenon, it was as though one of heaven’s casements had been flung open for a glimpse of glittering celestial gems. That was my first and regrettably last aurora sighting but ever since I have remained resolutely starstruck, so to speak.
Margaret Sonnemann has come by a circuitous route from the US to live in Tasmania.
Theatrical and artistic interests as well as the quest for the elusive aurorae have provided her with a life nearly as colourful and multi- faceted as the antique American quilts she collects.
It is heartening to learn that Tasmania, with its high latitudes, is one of the best locations in the world to see the dazzling atmospherics of the Southern Lights. With more than a twinge of envy I read the eyewitness account of a brilliant display during a Launceston to Hobart journey.
Accumulated insights from the author have been channelled into this book, which bridges several genres.
Immediately apparent is the collection of superb photographs taken by a network of colleagues. There are brief descriptions of the conditions necessary for the phenomena to manifest.
These entail solar winds flaring from sunspots, charged particles from the sun entering the earth’s magnetic fields and radiation.
The book is also a practical guide to the pursuit of auroae. Included is advice pertaining to the accessing of information about potential occurrences to locations that afford a good view should one occur.
There are even suggestions about equipment to ensure comfort and safety on bracing nights.
Aurorae can be ‘ discrete’ with their fairly defined boundaries, or ‘ diffuse’ and thus spread over a wide area.
Judging from the diagrams pertaining to “auroral storm intensity” it seems what I saw a couple of decades ago in Alberta was not a “streamer”, “curtain” or “arc” but possibly a “rayed band”.
Undoubtedly, the ultimate pleasure would be to witness one of these heavenly marvels from somewhere in the vicinity of the D’Entrecasteaux Channel.
Such a momentous experience would be a glorious embrace of the four elements of air, water, earth and fire.