28 February 2014

Northern Lights

Last night the northern lights, or aurora borealis, were widely visible in the UK, much further south than usual. I missed out, either because of light pollution in the city centre, or perhaps because they just weren't visible here, but many others were lucky, as even a brief glance at Twitter will show.

In 793, according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, there were seen fyrene dracen on þam lyfte fleogende 'flaming dragons flying in the air' and it is very plausible that this is a description of the northern lights. As we all know, that description was followed by the notorious Viking raid on Lindisfarne. So it seems appropriate that we can see the aurora borealis here just a few days before the Vikings: Life and Legend exhibition opens at the British Museum.

1 comment:

  1. Good point! There are references to aurorae in both Saxon and Norse records to these events. There was a public lecture on Viking Astronomy in February 2013 as part of the Winchester Science Centre space lecture series, and Dark Age auroral observations and Norse auroral theory were a part of that. We often focus on the classical Greek origins of astronomy, and other cultures such as the Babylonians and Egyptians, and neglect the Norse star lore and explanations for other sky phenomena.