Polar Bears International

Northern Lights & Denning Bears

2/10/2012 8:52:56 PM

Northern Lights & Denning Bears

Northern magic fills the skies tonight as ribbons of splendor dance across the dark sky. The aurora borealis greets us with its arctic wonder as we scan the coastal islands with the FLIR camera system, searching for polar bear dens.

 Aurora borealis

The night sky is calm at first, illuminated only by the full moon and the stars. Then, slowly, a single green ribbon appears, and starts to flow into intricate patterns of corkscrews and waves until the entire sky overhead is engulfed in a spectacular show: a northern dance displayed by the heavens that touchs one's eyes, mind, and heart.

The aurora borealis, or northern lights, are caused by radiation from the sun, called solar wind or solar flares, that are interacting with Earth's magnetic field. The Earth's magnetic field is strongest at the poles, so most auroras occur in the Arctic and Antarctic. The collision of the solar flares with molecules in the atmosphere cause energy to be emitted as visible light. Different ions cause a different reaction, and this in turn causes different colors to show in the auroral display. Tonight's green color is caused by the ions crashing into oxygen molecules. The most common aurora is green, however it can display purplish-pink, blue, and red—the rarest color.

Underneath this northern display of magic, the FLIR system detects a strong heat source suggesting a polar bear den is underneath a snow drift, as seen in the image below.

Hot spot of a probable den location


Overhead, the arctic sky displays its fantastic magic, while on the ground, beneath layers of snow, a mother polar bear cares for her young cubs. Two arctic icons on display in one enchanting night show.

April with the Magna Probe.

Air temperature: -5 F

Wind speed: 7 mph

Aurora photo by Chris Hiemstra, taken in Fairbanks; FLIR picture courtesy of Craig Perham and Dick Shideler; bottom photo by April Cheuvront. Return to Scientists & Explorers Blog.

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