Aurora Borealis – 17 Actually Interesting Myths and Facts

I’m looking forward to showing an intrepid group of photographers the Northern Lights. A trip to see the mystical, magical Northern Lights sits high atop many “Bucket Lists.” Is it on yours?

Yellowknife (Northwest Territories, Canada) is the capital for aurora tourism. It’s not a coincidence that our Northern Lights Photography Workshop is in that very city!

16 Facts and Myths – Northern Lights

  1. The ancient astronomer, Galileo, named the Lights “Aurora Borealis” in 1619. The term Aurora Borealis loosely translated means “Dawn of the North” and was derived from the Roman goddess of dawn, Aurora, and the Greek name for the north wind, Boreas.
  2. Green is the characteristic color of the auroras. The type of particles and the altitude of the cosmic interaction determines the auroras brilliant colors. Oxygen at about 60 miles up gives off the shows a yellow-green color. At higher altitudes (200 miles) oxygen produces the all-red auroras. Nitrogen will create blue lights, and neutral nitrogen provides the red-purple and the rippled edges.
  3. The ancient astronomer, Galileo, named the Lights “Aurora Borealis” in 1619. The term Aurora Borealis loosely translated means “Dawn of the North” and was derived from the Roman goddess of dawn, Aurora, and the Greek name for the north wind, Boreas.
  4. Just like fingerprints and snowflakes, no two Northern Lights can ever be the same. They are always of different patterns and colors.
  5. The Aurora Borealis also occurs in the Southern Hemisphere. The Antarctic lights are named “Aurora Australis” or “Dawn of the South.
  6. In medieval times, people believed the occurrences of aurora displays were harbingers of war or famine
  7. The Maori of New Zealand believed the lights were reflections from torches or campfires.
  8. The Menominee Indians of Wisconsin thought that the lights indicated the location of giants who were the spirits of great hunters and fishermen.
  9. The Inuit of Alaska believed that the lights were the spirits of the animals they hunted: the seals, salmon, deer and beluga whales.
  10. Many Aboriginal people thought that the lights were the spirits of their people.
  11. Often legends of the Auroras warn children that the lights might come down and snatch them away.
  12. The Cree Indians held that the Aurora was part of life’s circle and were the spirits of the dead who remained in the sky but apart from their loved ones.
  13. Inuit people feared the Northern Lights, believing that the phenomenon could decapitate individuals who traveled at night by dogsled. As protection, they cut their sled dogs’ ears for protection from these attacks.
  14. Finlanders believed the lights the Firefox created the lights by running so fast across the snow that his tail caused sparks to fly into the night sky creating the Aurora. If you don’t believe that, the Finnish word for the Northern Lights “revontulet” translates literally as “Firefox.
  15. The solar winds that push the ions needed to create the Aurora travel speeds approaching 2 million miles an hour (3 million kph) or roughly 1000 times the exhaust of a jet aircraft.
  16. The Northern Lights are the results of collisions between gaseous particles in the Earth’s atmosphere with charged particles released from the sun’s atmosphere.
  17. Northern Lights Photography Inspiration

Northern Lights Photography

One of thing that always helps me when I am photographing something new is to look at lots of images. I use those images to pre-visualize the kinds of images that I want to make. You can browse images via Google or on your favorite photo site.

Of course, there is also the old-fashioned way, books!


Summarizing Facts and Myths About the Northern Lights

Since the beginning of time the Northern Lights have been both revered and feared. The cosmic winds send the charged ions at 6 miles per second crashing in to our atmosphere and that causes the sky to light up like it’s on fire. We now know it isn’t really on fire, but it is mesmerizing and since your camera sees more colors than your eyes, they are best viewed as the images that you make! How was that for the worlds most subtle sales pitch?

Did I leave out your favorite Northern Lights Myth or fact? That comment box works perfectly for such things!



  1. Amanda January 1, 2017 at 4:36 pm - Reply

    Well it honestly wasn’t on my bucket list, but now it is. In fact I want to do it a few times to see just how different it is. Wow it seems truly amazing!

    • Jeff January 1, 2017 at 5:21 pm - Reply

      Awesome, because we actually run the workshop twice in a row! Looking forward to seeing that registration!

  2. Joan January 2, 2017 at 10:35 pm - Reply

    I’m going to take the little tip of looking at images and try that out. Interesting technique

    • Jeff January 3, 2017 at 5:43 am - Reply

      Anytime you can find inspiration for your art, you should take advantage of the opportunity. Of course, joining a workshop is the best way to find your mojo. I am a very inspiring instructor! 🙂

  3. David January 3, 2017 at 10:43 pm - Reply

    You really got me inspired with the Northern Lights again. I can’t believe I have gotten a lot of these myths. You brought them back to me.. 🙂

    • Jeff January 4, 2017 at 7:00 am - Reply

      Come along with us, space is limited! 🙂

  4. Missy January 4, 2017 at 10:29 pm - Reply

    Wow i didnt realize that there were so many different theories on the northern lights. Very interesting. I would love to see it myself one day.

    • Jeff January 5, 2017 at 7:06 am - Reply

      They really are amazing and as it turns out I have space in both 2017 Northern Lights workshops! 🙂 Session 1 – March 4-8, 2017 & Session 2 – March 9-13, 2017. Take the aurora off of your bucket list!

  5. Nicky January 5, 2017 at 12:25 pm - Reply

    I’ve actually have down it once. I thought I would have crossed it off my list, but I just can’t seem to do it. I want to experience it again!

    • Jeff January 8, 2017 at 6:57 am - Reply

      Sounds good to me and as it turns out I have space in the aurora workshop coming up in March!

  6. Maggie January 5, 2017 at 4:38 pm - Reply

    Wow that northern lights workshop you have available just sounds breathtaking. I have really have to take this trip!

    • Jeff January 8, 2017 at 6:45 am - Reply

      Yes it is and yes, yes you do! You will be Amazed!

  7. Taylor January 7, 2017 at 12:40 pm - Reply

    I’ve been seeing a lot of articles on the northern lights lately. When’s the last time you have done this? I imagine you go a lot?

    • Jeff January 8, 2017 at 6:45 am - Reply

      Every chance I get, but usually in March, It’s warmer!

  8. Beth January 7, 2017 at 5:58 pm - Reply

    I can are where people would fear it. It s not everyday that you are these colors in the sky. I think I would be scared too if I haven’t already read about them.

    • Jeff January 8, 2017 at 6:49 am - Reply

      They do have a magical feel, like something you would see in an episode of Game of Thrones!

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