Astronomer leads hunt for Northern Lights 'sound' rarely heard in the aurora

588     0
Astronomers will be onboard Hurtigruten ships as they sail into Northern Lights territory (Image: BRIS STUDIO)
Astronomers will be onboard Hurtigruten ships as they sail into Northern Lights territory (Image: BRIS STUDIO)

An astronomer is leading a cruise ship of night sky watches into the Arctic Circle in a bid to capture two 'white whales' of the aurora chasing community.

For hundreds of years tales of the Northern Noise were shared among the nomadic tribes people of Northern Europe and America.

"In their mythology they spoke of the spirits of their loved ones passing away and the sound of the ghosts of children playing in the sky, stepping on the celestial snow," explained Tom Kerss, a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society and best selling author.

"It was long dismissed as a psychological phenomenon. It was thought people were imagining some noise as they looked at the celestial display."

It has recently been confirmed that the phenomenon is not a psychological one, but most likely caused by a warm layer of air formed by electrons getting trapped about 150m above our heads as the sun goes down.

Gales, snow and rain to batter country today with 80mph wind gusts rridqqieqiqerinvGales, snow and rain to batter country today with 80mph wind gusts
Astronomer leads hunt for Northern Lights 'sound' rarely heard in the auroraThe Northern Lights above Norway (PA)

Those who have been lucky enough to hear the noise have described it as sounding like 'rustling silk' or 'two planks meeting flat ways'.

Despite having devoted much of his life to chasing auroras and taking people on tours of the Northern regions since his first sighting off the coast of Murray, Scotland at the age of four, Tom is yet to hear the sound himself.

It is this 'white whale' of the astronomy world - and another recently discovered phenomenon in which the lights appear to the east and west rather than north - which he is hoping to capture this year when he embarks on a set of new voyages with Hurtigruten.

Tom is a number of leading astronomers who will be on board both Hurtigruten’s Coastal Express and Hurtigruten Expeditions this year as the Earth enters into a period of solar maximum.

Astronomer leads hunt for Northern Lights 'sound' rarely heard in the auroraTom Kerss has spent much of his life chasing the aurora (@tomkerss/Twitter)

Our planet is in an 11-year cycle with the sun, with the intensity and regularity of visible Northern Lights displays falling during the minimum, and rising during the maximum.

Over the next two years the lights in the Arctic Circle are likely to be magnificent, and the solar storms fierce.

Tom will be there onboard to explain to cruisers what they're seeing.

"The actual effect of the solar maximum has been known about since Irish astronomer Agnes Mary Clerke," he continued.

"She connected the frequency of spots on the sun and visible aurora displays. Now we know the two correlate.

Astronomer leads hunt for Northern Lights 'sound' rarely heard in the auroraTom will lead cruisers on a tour of the Northern skies

"The opportunities (to see the lights) correlate on a linear scale. They represent areas of magnetic tension which have to break at some point, creating solar flares.

Weather maps forecast 750-mile blizzard dropping three inches of snow next weekWeather maps forecast 750-mile blizzard dropping three inches of snow next week

"When the sun is very active it's throwing out solar flares and the effects of these can last up to a couple of hours, which are called auroral storms when they occur."

Tom has found great joy in the Northern Lights since before he first saw them himself, his RAF pilot father regaling him with stories about seeing displays from the cockpit as he flew above the North Sea.

"Back in 2014 there was an extraordinary sub storm on Valentine's Day, it was so over powering," he said. "It was stretching all the way in the north all the way into the south through Orion and Taurus. That was absolutely amazing.

"I was there with a group of people and they were seeing it for the first time. One of the reasons I'm so excited to be working with Hurtigruten is the second hand joy that you get from seeing people who don't quite know how to process what they're seeing."

Tom will also be helping such people capture this memory.

Astronomer leads hunt for Northern Lights 'sound' rarely heard in the auroraThe aurora borealis over Hamnoy in Norway (Shutterstock / Piotr Krzeslak)

"Everyone wants to capture the moment so we'll be doing some workshops on photography onboard," he said.

"We are going to make sure everyone gets up to speed so they won't be too distracted when it's happening, but can take home the memory with them."

Guests on the cruise will get to enjoy an exclusive visit to the Northern Lights Planetarium in Tromsø with Hurtigruten's astronomy experts.

While on the the Coastal Express they will voyage along Norway's coast visiting 34 ports, more than 100 fjords and 1,000 mountains

According to Hurtigruten's Northern Lights Promise if they don't see the Northern Lights, guests will get a free 6 or 7-day cruise for the next Northern Lights Season.

To find out more visit hurtigruten.co.uk.

Milo Boyd

Print page

Comments:

comments powered by Disqus