Thursday, October 30, 2003

Being in the right place at the right time

As it happened, I was flying in a northern great circle over northern Siberia from London to Tokyo yesterday evening. This is an interesting place to be if the earth is about to be hit by the third greatest solar storm on record, because that means aurora. As it happened, most of the passengers were asleep, but I was playing an electronic game on the video screen in front of me. A stewardess came up to me, pointed out the window, and said something completely incomprehensible. I looked at her in a puzzled fashion and then she went away for a moment (presumably to ask someone else how to pronounce the word) and came back again. She then pronounced it again, and I still couldn't quite get it (Are you asking me to look at the Aral Sea? At night?). Then of course I was smart enough to actually look out the window. Oh, aurora. (The word is not an easy one to pronounce if you are Japanese, I suspect, given all the r sounds in it). I thanked her profusely, and then watched it for a while. Okay, I have never seen a major aurora before, so I have nothing to really compare it with. I doubt it was an extremely spectacular aurora as these things go, and I wouldn't describe it as quite the most spectacular thing I have ever seen, but it was certainly quite interesting. There were sort of vertical yellowy streaks covering much of the sky to the north, and there was a sort of misty yellowy reddish structure closer to the horizon. These were not espeically bright colours, but the whole thing was quite striking. It was visible in a substantial portion of the sky.

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