Magazine article The Spectator

Notes On. the Northern Lights

Magazine article The Spectator

Notes On. the Northern Lights

Article excerpt

Getting here took a long time. First a flight to Seattle, then a connection to Fairbanks, followed by a coach to Coldfoot Camp and a final stage by minibus. It's long after midnight and I'm shivering outside a snow-covered lodge in Wiseman, Alaska (population: 14), two hours north of the Arctic Circle, wrenching my tripod so the camera points straight upwards and trying like a fool to capture what essentially cannot be captured. I'm looking at the Northern Lights.

The aurora borealis, the result of electrically charged particles causing havoc in the upper atmosphere, is the reason I'm here in America's biggest state. For months I've been consulting the University of Alaska's Geophysical Institute space weather forecast website, becoming a temporary expert on exciting things like X-ray flux and the Carrington rotation. The tour company runs nightly viewing excursions to this lodge, in which visitors like me can sit in comfort drinking hot chocolate while a guy in US military snow gear stands outside scanning the skies like a UFO nut.

Tonight is average: a few splashes of green separated by 20-minute interludes of Arctic night, and then it's back to camp on the minibus. Having come all this way, I vow to pay another $60 and come back again tomorrow. This turns out to be the right decision. For a couple of hours, on and off, we are treated to quite a display, which the Alaskan lodge-keeper tells us is one of the best he's witnessed this season. …

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