Painting by Belynda Wilson Thomas
The Northern Lights rise like a kiss to the sea. Arthur Rimaud
This weekend the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) might be able to be seen from Southern Canada and the Northern United States. Seeing the Northern Lights is on many people’s bucket list. I can understand why having seen them as a kid. I didn’t realize what a big thing it was to see them. It is an awe-inspiring and spiritual experience as is seeing a double rainbow, or how the sun streams through clouds sometimes. The majesty of nature speaks to us, and pulls at us and makes us feel one with the world.
I don’t know if anyone in Southern Ontario saw the Northern Lights last night. My husband and I went for a walk in the off-chance we might get a glimpse. We didn’t, but we had a nice walk, on a lovely summer’s eve. We saw the Northern Lights once when we were driving to Ottawa. All of a sudden there they were shimmering in the sky. The Northern Lights have never appeared to me like they do in pictures, spectacularly colorful.
I feel blessed that I enjoyed the Northern Lights spectacular show before I saw a photo of the Northern Lights. When I saw it, it was awe-inspiring and I had no expectations, it was an experience to be enjoyed, not measured against some fantastical expectation that couldn’t be met.
Frost is but slender weeks away,
Tonight the sunset glow will stay,
Swing to the North and burn up higher
And Northern Lights wall earth with fire.
Nothing is lost yet, nothing broken:
Say goodbye to the sun.
The days of love and leaves are done.
Robert P.T. Coffin
Astrophotographer Mike Taylor made a graph to show the difference between what our eyes see during the Northern Lights and what a camera shows us afterward.
The discrepancy occurs because specific cells that our eyes use to detect light at night also happen to be terrible at detecting color, according to Dr. Andrea Thau, Vice President of the American Optometric Association. It is for that reason the Aurora Borealis often appear only in shades of gray.
I was wondering why I’ve never seen the spectacular colors even though I’ve been lucky enough to experience the Northern Lights on a few occasions.
Mike Taylor has been taking photos of the Northern Lights in central Maine consistently for two years. He says he often sees them as mostly white, with faint hints of red and pink. Only in the photos do other tones emerge. It is at the higher altitudes, in Iceland or Norway, they see lots of green. The best time to see the Northern Lights is around an equinox in the Northern Lights Belt regions of the world, Canada, Alaska, Russia, Sweden, Norway, etc.
So here we are with another chance to be disappointed because of our unmet expectations. If we are expecting to see what the camera sees we will be disappointed. So if we get the opportunity to see the Northern Lights, we need to take a picture so we can see, what we didn’t see.
I have never done that, had a camera when I saw the Northern Lights. I walked with my cell phone last night to do just that. There is still time to be thrilled by seeing the Northern Lights this weekend. Someone who isn’t expecting to see the Northern Lights will get a happy thrill, but the pictures they show won’t be what they saw with the naked eye.
After we look at the photo of what we didn’t see, will we begin to believe it is what we saw?
The icy cold will cut us like a knife in the dark, and we may lose everything in the wind, but the Northern Lights are burning, and they’re giving off sparks. Jim Steinman
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