Page:EB1911 - Volume 02.djvu/976

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
928
AURORA POLARIS

edge often resembles frilled drapery. At several stations in Greenland auroral curtains have been observed when passing right overhead to narrow to a thin luminous streak, exactly as a vertical sheet of light would seem to do to one passing underneath it. (5) Corona. A fully developed corona is perhaps the finest form of aurora. As the name implies, there is a sort of crown of light surrounding a comparatively or wholly dark centre. Farther from the centre the ray structure is usually prominent. The rays may lie very close together, or may be widely separated from one another. (6) Patches. During some displays, auroral light appears in irregular areas or patches, which sometimes bear a very close resemblance to illuminated detached clouds. (7) Diffused Aurora. Sometimes a large part of the sky shows a diffuse illumination, which, though brighter in some parts than others, possesses no definite outlines. How far the different forms indicate real difference in the nature of the phenomenon, and how far they are determined by the position of the observer, it is difficult to say. Not infrequently several different forms are visible at the same time.


1911 Britannica - Aurora Polaris.png


2. Isochasms.—Aurora is seldom observed in low latitudes. In the southern hemisphere there is comparatively little inhabited land in high latitudes and observational data are few; thus little is known as to how the frequency varies with latitude and longitude. Even in the northern hemisphere there are large areas in the Arctic about which little is known. H. Fritz (2) has, however, drawn a series of curves which are believed to give a good general idea of the relative frequency of aurora throughout the northern hemisphere. Fritz’ curves, shown in the illustration, are termed isochasms, from the Greek word employed by Aristotle to denote aurora. Points on the same curve are supposed to have the same average number of auroras in the year, and this average number is shown adjacent to the curve. Starting from the equator and travelling northwards we find in the extreme south of Spain an average of only one aurora in ten years. In the north of France the average rises to five a year; in the north of Ireland to thirty a year; a little to the north of the Shetlands to one hundred a year. Between the Shetlands and Iceland we cross the curve of maximum frequency, and farther north the frequency diminishes. The curve of maximum frequency forms a slightly irregular oval, whose centre, the auroral pole, is according to Fritz at about 81° N. lat., 70° W. long. Isochasms reach a good deal farther south in America than in Europe. In other words, auroras are much more numerous in the southern parts of Canada and in the United States than in the same latitudes of Europe.

3. Annual Variation.—Table I. shows the annual variation observed in the frequency of aurora. It has been compiled from several authorities, especially Joseph Lovering (4) and Sophus Tromholt (5). The monthly figures denote the percentages of the total number seen in the year. The stations are arranged in order of latitude. Individual places are first considered, then a few large areas.

The Godthaab data in Table I. are essentially those given by Prof. A. Paulsen (6) as observed by Kleinschmidt in the winters of 1865 to 1882, supplemented by Lovering’s data for summer. Starting at the extreme north, we have a simple period with a well-marked maximum at midwinter, and no auroras during several months at midsummer. This applies to Hammerfest, Jakobshavn, Godthaab and the most northern division of Scandinavia. The next division of Scandinavia shows a transition stage. To the south of this in Europe the single maximum at mid-winter is replaced by two maxima, somewhere about the equinoxes.

4. In considering what is the real significance of the great difference apparent in Table I. between higher and middle latitudes, a primary consideration is that aurora is seldom seen until the sun is some degrees below the horizon. There is no reason to suppose that the physical causes whose effects we see as aurora are in existence only when aurora is visible. Until means are devised for detecting aurora during bright sunshine, our knowledge as to the hour at which these causes are most frequently or most powerfully in operation must remain incomplete. But it can hardly be doubted that the differences apparent in Table I. are largely due to the influence of sunlight. In high latitudes for several months in summer it is never dark, and consequently a total absence of visible aurora is practically inevitable. Some idea of this influence can be derived from figures obtained by the Swedish International Expedition of 1882-1883 at Cape Thorsden, Spitsbergen, lat. 78° 28′ N. (7). The original gives the relative frequency of aurora for each degree of depression of the sun below the horizon, assuming the effect of twilight to be nil (i.e. the relative frequency to be 100) when the depression is 18.5° or more. The following are a selection of the figures:—
Angle of depression
4.5°
7.5°
10.5°
12.5°
15.5°.
Relative frequency
0.3
9.3
44.9
74.5
95.9.
These figures are not wholly free from uncertainties, arising from true diurnal and annual variations in the frequency, but they give a good general idea of the influence of twilight.
If sunlight and twilight were the sole cause of the apparent annual variation, the frequency would have a simple period, with a maximum at midwinter and a minimum at midsummer. This is what is actually shown by the most northern stations and districts in Table I. When we come, however, below 65° lat. in Europe the frequency near the equinoxes rises above that at midwinter, and we have a distinct double period, with a principal minimum at midsummer and a secondary minimum at midwinter. In southern Europe—where, however, auroras are too few to give smooth results in a limited number of years—in southern Canada, and in the United States, the difference between the winter and summer months is much reduced. Whether there is any real difference between high and mean latitudes in the annual frequency of the causes rendered visible by aurora, it is difficult to say. The Scandinavian data, from the wealth of observations, are probably the most representative, and even in the most northern district of Scandinavia the smallness of the excess of the frequencies in December and January over those in March and October suggests that some influence tending to create maxima at the equinoxes has largely counterbalanced the influence of sunlight and twilight in reducing the frequency at these seasons.
5. Fourier Analysis.—With a view to more minute examination, the annual frequency can be expressed in Fourier series, whose terms represent waves, whose periods are 12, 6, 4, 3, &c. months. This has been done by Lovering (4) for thirty-five stations. The nature of the results will best be explained by reference to the formula given by Lovering as a mean from all the stations considered, viz.:—
8.33 + 3.03 sin (30t + 100° 52′) + 2.53 sin (60t + 309° 5′) + 0.16 sin (90t + 213° 31′) + 0.56 sin (120t + 162° 45′) + 0.27 sin (150t + 32° 38′).
The total number of auroras in the year is taken as 100, and t denotes the time, in months, that has elapsed since the middle of January. Putting t = 0, 1, &c., in succession, we get the percentages of the total number of auroras which occur in January, February, and so on. The first periodic term has a period of twelve, the second of six months, and similarly for the others. The first periodic term is largest when t × 30° + 100° 52′ = 450°. This makes t = 11.6 months after the middle of January, otherwise the 3rd of January, approximately. The 6-month term has the earliest of its two equal maxima about the 26th of March. These two are much the most important of the periodic terms. The angles 100° 52′, 309° 5′, &c., are known as the phase angles of the respective periodic terms, while 3.03, 2.53, &c., are the corresponding amplitudes. Table II. gives a selection of Lovering’s results. The stations are arranged according to latitude.