By Meghan Mella
An image of the Uppsala “skyline” below the aurora in Sweden. (Credit: Mella)
In Swedish there is a phrase “himla bra” that basically means “awesomely good.” The word himla literally translates to sky or heaven, and I have to think this phrase came about from Swedes staring at the sky, admiring the goodness of the northern lights.
I have been waiting and occasionally watching for aurora since I moved to Sweden two and a half years ago. I always forget that most of Europe is at a much higher latitude than most of the continental United States. I am living at about the same latitude as Juneau, Alaska and would expect to see quite good or at least decent conditions in my area. A few times I’ve been able to see a band of green aurora at the northern horizon. For the most part though, I have had bad luck with the sky being completely overcast on days with good space weather.
But the waiting paid off in a spectacular way last night, Tuesday, March 17, 2015. I have never seen space weather conditions as strong as they were. I checked the sky just as dusk was fading, but I didn’t see anything. Some small clouds were moving in, which was worrisome, but luckily they cleared out just in time for aurora to be seen across the entire sky. In what seemed like a very short time span (but was actually over three hours), we saw so much variety in the aurora— stable structures and fast-moving structures, discrete arcs and diffuse arcs, and pulsating patches.
An image of the aurora overhead in Sweden. (Credit: Mella)
The best part of my experience was watching with friends who had never seen the aurora before. That will always be one of my favorite things in life. I feel like it is such a simple gift to offer, to call a friend who has lived in the north her entire life but has never seen the aurora. Another friend was shocked by how fast the motion could be. He said, it was “the first time experiencing something so big that was moving so quickly.” Seeing the aurora through the eyes of a first-timer can be like seeing it for the first time all over again.
Det var himla bra! It was awesomely good!
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Meghan Mella is a member of the Aurorasaurus scientist network and lives in Sweden. She studied the structure and dynamics of aurora using rocket observations. One of Meghan’s most memorable observations was during a space physics workshop in Fairbanks, Alaska, when she gleefully viewing the aurora for the first time with a group of theoretical scientists. She is also learning Swedish folk dance.