Flight of the Ionic Phoenix

I’ve spent the last couple of days as a zombie due to the time change, but now that I feel like myself, I’ve got some catch-up posts to do.  The first one has to do with today’s APOD.

Image Credit & Copyright: Hallgrimur P. Helgason;

Can you spot the phoenix shape? It doesn’t mean anything special, it’s just the way our brains see the patterns of light from this gorgeous aurora in Iceland.  Ionization of atmospheric gases from charged solar particles doesn’t sound as glamorous as ‘phoenix aurora,’ but I still appreciate the scientific beauty of it.  Human beings are excellent at pattern recognition, and so we tend to see patterns and shapes in natural phenomenon, even if they are completely random.

If you weren’t told that this photograph was taken in Iceland, would you be able to tell? One indication is the appearance of familiar Orion the hunter near the horizon, leading to the Hyades and Pleiades of Taurus in the center of the photograph.  Another clue tells you that the photo was taken near the pole, since aurorae tend to occur in a circle around the magnetic poles.  The curve of the aurora draws around the camera, meaning the camera must be further north.

That’s the power of science, using our understanding to analyze clues and figure out things that we wouldn’t be able to see otherwise.


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