Majestic Lights: The Aurora in Science, History, and the Arts

Majestic Lights: The Aurora in Science, History, and the Arts

Author(s): Robert H. Eather

Published Online: 19 MAR 2013

Print ISBN: 9780875902159

Online ISBN: 9781118664964

DOI: 10.1029/SP018

About this Book

Published by the American Geophysical Union as part of the Special Publications Series.

The atmosphere being heavier in the polar regions, than in the equatorial, will there be lower; as well as from that cause, as from the smaller effect of the centrifugal force: consequently the distance of the vacuum above the atmosphere will be less at the poles, than elsewhere;…May not then the great quantity of electricity, brought into the polar regions by clouds, which are condensed there, and fall in snow, which electricity would enter the earth, but cannot penetrate the ice; may it not, I say, break through that low atmosphere, and run along in the vacuum over the air and towards the equator; diverging as the degrees of longitude enlarge; strongly visible where densest, and becoming less visible as it more diverges; till it finds a passage to the earth in more temperate climates, or is mingled with their upper air.

 

So wrote Benjamin Franklin (176), L.L.D., F.R.S., in a paper read to the Royal Academy of Sciences at Paris at the meeting held immediately after Easter in 1779. Franklin is but one famous name among men of science who has puzzled over the aurora since science began. A partial list reads almost like a Who's Who's of science up until our present century, and it includes Aristotle, Seneca, Kepler, Galileo, Gassendi, Halley, Euler, Descartes, Celsius, Cavendish, Dalton, Volta, Gauss, Humbolt, and Angström.

To trace the story of the aurora through history is to trace the development of man from a creature of ignorance and superstition, through his renaissance of art and learning, to an analytical disciple of science and technology. But fortunately, man's transformation is not complete: Nature has contrived to clothe all objects of our scientific investigation, from the microsopic to the cosmic, in an aura of beauty and surprise. The aurora is perhaps the most spectacular of nature's contrivances to preserve the soul of the scientist.

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