“Oh, but it’s so cold there!” It’s a phrase that I hear a lot lately. It’s people’s common reaction when I tell them that I recently moved to Estonia. “Ah, but you are from Switzerland, so you must love winter and snow.” If only! I have never been a particular fan of the cold season and certainly don’t feel any itch to hit the slops at the first sight of snow. I moved here for the long summer days and the untouched beaches. And the further north you get, the higher the chance of seeing northern lights.
I got so excited when one of my fellow expats announced a fair likelihood of seeing virmalised in Estonia a few days ago. Drop everything and get to the beach, was my first thought. No way I was going to miss that chance! So I grabbed a couple of drinks and headed for the little peninsula near my home to watch the spectacle. What a fascinating natural phenomenon to witness! For a visual person like myself, northern lights are prime eye candy. I could have sat on the swing, staring into the sky for hours, with the meditative sound of the waves in the background.
While a felt deep appreciation for the dancing colours up above, I wondered how the forces of nature bring them about. Something about how the sunlight breaks particles in the atmosphere into spectral colours… Auroras (borealis as well as australis) are optical emissions of electrically charged particles (primarily electrons) in the magnetosphere when they hit and thereby ionise oxygen and nitrogen atoms in the atmosphere. A so-called solar wind constantly streaming from the sun in all directions feeds the Earth’s magnetosphere with charged particles. Due to its intensity, the recent wind is more like a storm (a bit like a meteor shower). In the magnetosphere, the particles are temporarily trapped by the geomagnetic field (hence the visibility of auroras in the polar regions) and brought to “shimmer” and “ripple”.
And can you imagine, auroras also occur on other planets – if they have (had) a magnetic field and an atmosphere, like our planet does. On Mars, for example, auroras apparently are red and green (read on).
Standing there, gazing upwards – in awe – a feeling of being connected to something vast and greater overcomes me. Deep ease and gratitude spread within. It’s this feeling of spiritual connectedness that happiness researchers are so curious about. It certainly works on me! We should all stare at and savour natural beauty more often.