Hearing the Northern Lights

NorthernLightsby Anniel10/7/15
We have had a couple of outstanding Aurora Borealis displays in the past few weeks and I was reminded of places and times I have seen them. I first saw the Northern Lights right after Autumn Equinox 1960. I thought they were beautiful even though they were only pale green streaks and the sky was still not wholly dark. They did get better, and, yes, they do sometimes look like curtains. They were more awe inspiring as winter progressed. Then in late February a friend knocked on my door shouting, “You must come outside now!”

Not even stopping for a jacket I went out to the most amazing sight I have ever seen. Northern Lights of incredible colors and brightness filled every inch of the sky, but the bright stars still shone through them, like a cloth of sheerest color had been shaken all around us. The coronal apogee of the Aurora seemed directly overhead, as though an invisible hand was holding the bright green, red, purple, blue, white and yellow cloth there and letting it ripple out all around the earth.

Half frozen, I finally had to go in for a hat, jacket and boots. All the neighbors came to stand together and share blankets. Then someone made hot chocolate for us. We were out for what seemed like hours before the aurora finally faded. I have seen wonderful displays since that night, but I don’t think I have seen one that matches it.

A jet fighter pilot friend told me that he and others in his Wing had flown through the Northern Lights on occasion, and Sydney Lawrence, the great Alaskan artist, had painted the Aurora almost reaching the ground, but most people never believed that since the lights are supposed to be higher in the atmosphere. There were those who claimed to hear the Aurora, but that, too, was generally discounted by the experts.

On Valentine’s Day in 1961, my husband, Bear, left Calistoga, California to drive his little Volkswagen to Alaska. He stopped in Mendocino to say goodbye to his grandparents, and then skedaddled up the Highway.
When he reached the Yukon Territory it was so cold that cars had to be put inside a heated place at night. Frozen tires were a problem and too tight frozen chains weren’t much help. He stopped for a day-and-a-half to get new tires and learn to put chains on correctly. His car heater and defroster didn’t always do the best job and he had to scrape the inside of his front and driver’s side windows while he drove. Sounds like it was great fun. He has tried to figure out the date he reached the border at Beaver, but doesn’t remember the exact late February date.

The Border Station at Beaver didn’t open until 8 A.M. All the rental units were filled and all inside parking was also taken, so Bear decided to stay in his car until morning and drove out to a parking area near the Station. He left the motor running and cracked the driver’s side window slightly, but it soon got cold. He occasionally turned the motor off, but didn’t dare leave it off for long. Finally he stepped out of his car to stretch his legs, in time to see a total Auroral Display. He was shocked to see how bright the lights were and suddenly realized that he could hear them, too. He kept getting back into his car to warm up, turning the motor off to get out and see and listen to the lights. He would tell me years later that they sounded kind of like the static crackle you hear when you run your fingers through clean, long hair.

Several years ago I found a story of one man who lived alone way out in the Yukon Territory. He told of an incredible Auroral Display he saw on the night of February 27, 1961. He, too, said he heard the Northern Lights then. It had to have been the night Bear heard them, and the same night I watched them.

Bear had never met anyone else who claimed to have heard the Aurora until a few months ago when he met our daughter’s voice teacher. She had attended Music School in Banff, Alberta, Canada, and said she had heard them many times while living in Banff. I wondered if the reason Bear and Patrice could hear them was that they had both been involved in active listening, she to music, and he to listening to and identifying Russian military transmissions along the Black Sea Coast when he was stationed in Turkey.

It finally occurred to me to Google the matter. There is a U-Tube Video that tells about the earth’s Very Low Frequency Electro Magnetic Waves that are excited by coronal mass ejections from the sun. I won’t attempt to describe the howlers, growlers, knocks, choirs and other sounds the earth makes during a solar storm, but if you’re interested you, too, can listen to the auroral and celestial music of the heavens.


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7 Responses to Hearing the Northern Lights

  1. Timothy Lane says:

    I’ve only rarely been in the far north (most notably while attending a 1994 SF convention in Winnipeg), and as best I can recall I’ve never seen the aurora borealis (or for that matter, the aurora australis, much less heard it. Of course, I’m not sure how visible it generally is in city skies.

    • Anniel says:

      Timothy, City lights do interfere with Aurora viewing, and today it seems like there is so much noise pollution everywhere that hearing the lights unaided is well nigh impossible.

      I had always kind of wondered how scientists discovered that the northern hemisphere’s Aurora Borealis and the southern hemisphere’s Aurora Australis were mirror images of each other. I remember seeing color photos taken of simultaneous auroras being put together like the wings of a butterfly and they were absolutely mirror images, even to the colors. That was pre-Sputnik.Now, of course, we can see the whole show from space. Not much has been said about the importance of the magnetic poles, but they do play a part.

  2. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Very nice, Annie.

    • Anniel says:

      Brad, Maybe Washington will have auroras tonight. I don’t know your artificial light situation, but sometimes the auroras show up enough to be seen.

      Thanks for putting up the U-tube link the way it is.

  3. Anniel says:

    Funny thing. Tonight and tomorrow night are supposed to be high auroral activity nights, and it’s raining here. Some are saying the Aurora may be seen as far south as Texas.

  4. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    A jet fighter pilot friend told me that he and others in his Wing had flown through the Northern Lights on occasion,

    The most spectacular display of the Northern Lights I have ever seen was on a winter flight, which I believe was from the States to Asia. Like you, I saw a rainbow of colors, not just green, moving through the sky. It is something I won’t forget.

    • Anniel says:

      KFZ, I’m glad you got to see such a lovely sight. I’m not sure how they predict where the auroras will be seen, but the forecast does say Texas.

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