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Opinion: Light show over the prairie was a real treat


Many years have gone by since that winter evening in 1956 when we were treated to one of the greatest displays of the aurora I have ever witnessed. Our unit was stationed far out along the Hi-Line in north-central Montana. The term applied to the expansive territory extending across Montana and the Dakotas. The Little Belt Mountains distant southeast and the Big Belts to our southwest were mere low ridge lines along the horizon. North of the border stretched the even greater expanses of the Canadian prairies, transitioning through the boreal forest into the tundra all the way to the Arctic Ocean.

The drama began with a faint flickering low in the north early in the evening, expanding higher into the sky as the evening progressed, until wavering curtains and waves of green filled the heavens and dimly illuminated the landscape. As earlier in Greenland, the green, representing the sun’s incoming electrons interacting with oxygen in the earth’s atmosphere was very active. In one or two spots was a quiet patch of red. The patch of red didn’t move. Because these incoming electrons are moving at the speed of light, they can produce auroras at both poles almost simultaneously. At the South Pole, it is known as the aurora australis.

On this evening the display was so extensive that it extended beyond the zenith well down into the southern quadrant of the sky. Toward midnight, with the inflow of electrons falling off, the display gradually subsided and faded away. Like a great symphony in its final stanzas, the show faded back into the distant north. Before science had revealed its true nature, those whose distant ancestors lived in higher latitudes were mesmerized by this display of forces unexplained and at times feared. Forces beyond our control that, nevertheless, add a dimension to our lives that can add some perspective to existence.

Source: Post Register