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Stig min klang mot sol mot norrskensbågar vida,
Väck sovande fjäll, slumrande myr och mo!
Vig åt arbete in fält, som fruktsamma bida,
Vig dem till sist en gång åt den eviga tystnadens ro!
``And I looked, and, behold, a whirlwind came out of the north, a great cloud, and a fire infolding itself, and a brightness was about it, and out of the midst thereof as the colour of amber, out of the midst of the fire.''
``Norr-skenets rätta hemvist, det högsta av vår atmospher, är för oss och alla våra undersökningar otilgängeligt. ögat och synen äro de ende medel, hvilka til röns inhämtande därvid kunna användas. Men äfven dem är ej tillåtit, at skåda Norr-skenen sådane som de äro i sig sjelfve, utan endast så, som de, på långt håll, visa sig för våra bedrägliga omdömen.''
The colourful and highly dynamic northern lights are one of the most fascinating and beautiful phenomena seen in the night sky. For as long as there have been people present at suitable locations, they have probably postulated over the origin and purpose of the aurora, first in terms of myths, superstitious interpretations, or religious beliefs and later on in terms of scientific methods. Ancient works by Pliny [ca. 77]; Aristotle [ca. 340 B.C.] and Seneca [ca. 63] with vivid descriptions of low latitude aurora are reported by Chamberlain [1995]. It is sometimes speculated if some ancient biblical texts might contain early descriptions of auroral events, such as, for example the vision of Ezeikel around 593 B.C., as quoted above [Raspopov et al., 2003; Siscoe et al., 2002, and references therein].

Many sources report that the name: ``Aurora Borealis'' (northern lights) was assigned by Gassendi [1651], however, research by Siscoe [1978] indicates that these terms existed earlier, and that they might be traceable to Galileo Galilei or his disciple Guiducci [Eather, 1980, p. 51].

When modern science emerged, explanations of the aurora began to be formulated. Initially only visual observations were available [for example de Mairan, 1733; Celsius, 1733; Gassendi, 1651]. In a speech to the king (Gustav III) and the newly established Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, Wilcke [1778] summarises ``the newest explanations of the northern lights''. This speech includes a large set of early references.1.1 Wilcke also remarks on the exceptional difficulties to make accurate recordings of auroral events. ``The eye, the pen, and the brush of the fastest painter are too slow to record the changes''1.2. Yet, it would take more than one century until better tools became available. Meanwhile, artistic work, like drawings and paintings were the only available tools to record observations of northern lights [see references in Eather, 1980; Pellinen and Kaila, 1991]. Now, over 225 years later, and despite the giant leaps of technology, it is still a rather difficult task to make accurate auroral recordings.

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Next: Auroral imaging Up: THE AURORAL LARGE IMAGING Previous: List of Tables   Contents   Index
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