Northern Light Fact #9 – The First Lights

Northern Lights have always been there, but who was the first human who accurately described this phenomenon?

There are many ancient cave-paintings about Aurora Borealis, oldest known painting is actually called “Macaronis” and it was painted somewhere around 30,000 B.C. Then 2600 B.C there are writings from China saying that “strong lightning was moving around in the sky”. Even Aristotle mentioned the lights in his book “Meteorology” in 384-322 B.C describing them as a light which resembled the flames of burning gas. He also stated that If these flames spread and at the same time sent out sparks and rays, they are called “jumping goats”.

But this is about precision, so what is the first accurate description of the Northern Lights? In the 17th century Galileo Galilei gave the phenomenon it’s scientific name “Aurora Borealis” and tried to explain them as some kind of reflection from the Sun. Unfortunately the description was wrong, but the name stuck. It took about 200 years until the truth was finally revealed.

The first accurate description of the Northern Lights was made by Norwegian professor Kristian Birkeland in the 19th century! He explained that the Aurora Borealis has something to do with the electromagnetic storms and the Earth’s magnetic field and he even created artificial Northern Lights in his laboratory trying to prove his point. International scientists of stature fiercely protested against Birkeland’s theories and his theories never got accepted by the scientists of the time.

“Although Birkeland’s hypothesis was the first realistic theory pertaining to the northern lights, the explanation for the various shapes, colours, movements and altitudes of the northern lights had to be left to space-age researchers.”

The University of Oslo published this great and extensive article in their research magazine Apollon, if you want to know everything about Prof. Birkeland and the Northern Lights, be sure to check the article out.

This was the 9th and also second last fact in our Northern Light Fact -series! We hope you guys have enjoyed reading these and in case you have missed some of the older ones be sure to visit our blog.




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