The Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights are well-known to skywatchers. They are bright lights that appear in the sky when the electrically charged particles from the Sun are blown on a solar wind and react to the earth's magnetic field. Hi, I'm Dave Thurlow and this is the Weather Notebook.
The Aurora Borealis can be seen in some parts of Alaska for 8 months of the year. As correspondent Amy Mayer reports, that gives scientists an unusually long time to glimpse the cosmic display.
Amy: Alaska's aurora tourists spend lots of money and travel great distances hoping to catch a dynamic display. The Mt. Aurora Skiland lodge near Fairbanks is a downhill ski resort by day. By night, it's a warm respite for sky watchers, most of them Japanese.
Soundbite: "This is aurora. We would like to see Aurora, but we cannot see aurora in Japan...because it's beautiful, mysterious, and wonderful. That's why. We graduated from college so we want to make good memories."
Those memories may be of more than just a good vacation. Occidental College anthropology professor C. Scott Littleton studies Japan's indigenous religion, Shinto. He says it has strong ties to natural phenomena. High waterfalls and symmetrical mountains, for example, have spiritual meaning. So in addition to seeing a spectacular lightshow, he says many Japanese may have a spiritual experience when they view the aurora.
But no one can guarantee that when they come the Northern Lights will be out. Plus, the best displays tend to be accompanied by sub-zero temperatures. All Skiland owner Steve Birdsall can promise the viewers is a warm lodge and hot coffee. But he says he knows exactly why they come.
Soundbite: "Have you ever sat out on a dark night, clear and cold and had the aurora just pour down on you? that's what brings them out."
Thanks today to Amy Mayer of Fairbanks, Alaska. The Weather Notebook is generously supported by Subaru.