Thursday, 5 August 2010

Seeing further

Even as I write, our local paper says, streams of energetic particles are hurtling towards the Earth, where they will get caught up in our not-quite-as-energetic magnetic field lines and redirected to the poles. I've always wanted to see the Aurora. It's one of those things, like a total eclipse or the great wall of China, that you feel you should see even just once in a lifetime. The local paper goes on to say that this time I won't have to travel far: this Aurora will be so energetic that those of us as far south as 54 degrees will get a good view, as long as the sky is clear.

It forgets to say exactly what the sky needs to be clear of.

Step out into the street and try to catch the aurora. Or indeed anything else in the night sky. Chances are that, unless you live in the middle of a field, all you will get to see is street lighting. It is so intense near our house that we could turn off all our own lights and still walk around and carry on most of our everyday business using just the spare light that spills in from the street. So, of course, could our friendly neighbourhood burglar. But I digress.

It's a tough call to ask for more darkness. Darkness sounds so, uncivilised. It gets used as a metaphor for ignorance, malice, or exile.

But now that there's so little of it left, people are beginning to notice that we're missing out on something. With darkness, our sleep is deeper. Wildlife can go about its business undisturbed.

And, ironically, in the end it allows us to see a lot further.

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