Shin­ing a light on auro­ras

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - FRONT PAGE - CLYDE L. SELBY

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.

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