In Orkney we are lucky enough to witness the Aurora Borealis on frequent occasions. For many a year folk in Rousay have been gazing up at the heavens – marvelling at the coloured lights in the Northern sky.
Here is a selection of photographs I have taken of the Merry Dancers over the last twenty years or so from various vantage points in Wasbister to illustrate the phenomenon.
The Aurora is an incredible light show caused by collisions between electrically charged particles released from the sun that enter the earth’s atmosphere and collide with gases such as oxygen and nitrogen. The lights are seen around the magnetic poles of the northern and southern hemispheres.
A correspondent for the Orkney Herald put pen to paper and did an excellent job describing the dancer’s performance – or streamers as they called them in the old days – one September night in 1864.
1864 September 6 Orkney Herald
SPLENDID DISPLAY OF AURORA BOREALIS. – On Wednesday night a magnificent and singularly wild display of the Aurora Borealis was witnessed in this quarter. From masses of what resembled blue-white luminous mist in the SW., the Aurora swept in broad, bright, and swift sheets across the heavens to the NE., as if impelled by a furious gust overhead, and then the successive streamers melted away in mazy and eccentric motions. They seemed much nearer to the earth than usual, and emitted a gleam of light as they shot rapidly on their course. At times the streamers, breaking away from the bank of luminous cloud, unrolled themselves like curtains of mist, which quivered and gleamed, contracted and dilated with amazing rapidity. The most fantastic shapes were assumed by the streamers when they passed to the nor’-east. From curtains and wavy wreaths they changed to columns, spires, and domes, shining with a light as soft and clear as that of moonlight upon peaks of snow. Through the thinner wreaths the stars could be seen shining beyond, but their brightness was obscured where the luminous vapour was piled and folded in cloud-like forms. The wind began to blow while the strange phenomenon was yet visible, and during the night it increased to a gale. Although the Aurora remains somewhat of a mystery to meteorologists, there can be little doubt that it is of electro-magnetic origin, as it occasions irregular movements of the magnetic needle. The Aurora on Wednesday night was not accompanied by the noise, resembling the crackling of electricity, which we have occasionally overheard, but it was one of the strangest manifestations of this beautiful phenomenon that we have ever witnessed.