The Greatest Light Show Ever

Windows into History

northern lightsSnippets 88.  In the last snippet we looked at an account of the northern lights seen in London in 1739, published in the Royal Society of London Journal, one of the greatest sources of historical information available. Established in 1665 as the first exclusively scientific journal in the world, it has been in continuous publication ever since.

Fast forward 120 years and we find in the same journal an account of perhaps the most spectacular aurora seen in recorded history, written by Balfour Stewart. A noted physicist from Scotland, Stewart was appointed director of Kew Observatory in the same year, and would go on to be awarded the Rumford Medal by the Royal Society in 1868. The amazing sights described were caused by an intense solar flare.

During the latter part of August, and the beginning of September, 1859, auroral displays of almost unprecedented magnificence were observed very widely…

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