Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 59.djvu/31

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21
THE AURORA AUSTRALIS.
THE AURORA AUSTRALIS, AS OBSERVED FROM THE 'BELGICA.'
By Dr. FREDERICK A. COOK.

IN the literature of the still unknown phenomena of polar auroras, deductions have been based almost entirely upon observations of the aurora borealis. So little has been known of the south pole and of its terrestrial and celestial surroundings that the aurora australis has been omitted in the upbuilding of auroral science. From the observations of the Belgian expedition and from the reports of forgotten previous explorers, it would seem that the auroras of the south are not so brilliant or so varied in form and character as those reported from the north. Auroras in brilliant colors and in fantastic heavenly drapery are indeed rare in the regions invaded by the 'Belgica.' It should, however, be remembered that the austral phenomenon is but vaguely known. The 'Belgica's' drift covers but a small space in the great unknown area about the south pole. Nearly eight million square miles, a region as large as all North America, is still a blank under the Southern Cross. At other points within this area the aurora may appear differently. Such a condition obtains in the arctic. Nordenskiold, viewing the northern lights from the sea north of Siberia, saw displays almost exactly like those seen from the 'Belgica' south of the Pacific, but Peary and all the explorers who wintered on the Greenland side of the geographical pole have described auroras in vivid colors and fantastic forms.

The antarctic continent, which is just the region from which the southern lights can best be studied, is still unexplored, and most of it is inaccessible. If we can judge from similar latitudes in the north, the edge of this great continent of ice is an ideal latitude for effective observatories, and no doubt future explorers will seek favorable locations from which to observe this curious phenomenon.

The inhabited parts of Australasia, southern South America and Africa are too far north to offer a good station to study these phenomena. There are no convenient land projections in the antarctic, like Siberia, Norway and Greenland in the arctic, where comfortable stations could be established. From this it results that few careful studies of the austral aurora have been made. The great restless, unencumbered sea which sweeps around the south polar area is not favorable for such observations. Captain Cook, who, during three years, circumnavigated the globe in high latitudes, barely mentions the aurora. Ross, Wilkes and d'Urville were in the ice regions only during the days of summer, when auroras were seldom visible.