LESSON 27 The aurora
ONE of the most mysterious and beautiful of Nature's manifestations is the Aurora.(1) In our own latitudes strikingly beautiful auroral displays may sometimes be witnessed; but it is in the Arctic and Antarctic regions that the phenomenon appears in its fullest beauty. The following description may be taken as an example of what is often seen in the Polar regions—the true home of the aurora:—
Darkness broods over the Polar world. Even the outlines of the mighty hills can scarcely be distinguished. No object can be seen moving over the wide expanse of frozen sea.
Suddenly from east to west appears a beautiful arch of living gold! The lights dart to and fro, their colours rivalling those of the rainbow. Beyond the arch, a stream of golden rays shoots up far above all the rest, and the stars are obscured as the "merrie dancers"(2) sweep along in waves of light.
There is something surpassingly beautiful in the appearance of the true "auroral curtain." Fringed with coloured streamers, it waves to and fro, as if shaken by some unseen hand. Then, from end to end, there passes a succession of undulations, and the curtain seems to wave in a series of graceful curves.
Suddenly, and as it were by magic, there succeeds a perfect stillness; as if the unseen power, which had been displaying the varied beauties of the auroral curtain were resting for a moment. But even while the motion of the curtain is stilled, we see the alternate waxing and waning of its mysterious light.
While we gaze, fresh waves of disturbance traverse the magic canopy. Startling coruscations add splendour to the scene; and the noble span of the auroral arch, from which the waving curtain seems to hang, gives a grandeur to the spectacle which no words can adequately describe.
At length the luminous zone breaks up. The scene of the display becomes covered with scattered streaks and patches of ashen gray light, which hang like clouds over the heavens. Then these in turn disappear, and nothing remains of the brilliant spectacle but a dark smoke-like cloud on the horizon.