Page:EB1911 - Volume 02.djvu/983

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933
AURORA POLARIS
zenith, or it might increase until an altitude of about 45° was reached and then diminish, appearing much reduced when the zenith was reached. Of course the phenomenon might be due to actual change in the arc, but it is at least consistent with the view that arcs are of two kinds, one form constituting a layer of no great vertical depth but considerable real horizontal width, the other form having little horizontal width but considerable vertical depth, and resembling to some extent an auroral curtain.
18. According to numerous observations made at Cape Thorsden, the apparent angular velocity of arcs increases on the average with their altitude. Dividing the whole number of arcs, 156, whose angular velocities were measured into three numerically equal groups, according to their altitude, the following were the results in minutes of arc per second of time (or degrees per minute of time):—


Group. I. II. III. All.
Mean altitude
Greatest velocity
Mean velocity
10.5°
4.81
0.48
34.6°
15.12
2.42
72.3°
109.09
8.67
..
..
3.86


Each group contained auroras which appeared stationary. The intervals to which the velocities referred were usually from five to ten minutes, but varied widely. The velocity 109.09 was much the largest observed, the next being 52.38; both were from observations lasting under half a minute.
19. In 1882-1883 the direction of motion of arcs was from north to south in 62% of the cases at Jan Mayen, and in 58% of the cases at Cape Thorsden. This seems the more common direction in the northern hemisphere, at least for stations to the south of the zone of maximum frequency, but a considerable preponderance of movements towards the north was observed in Franz Joseph Land by the Austrian Expedition of 1872-1874. The apparent motion of arcs is sometimes of a complicated character. One end only, for example, may appear to move, as if rotating round the other; or the two ends may move in opposite directions, as if the arc were rotating about a vertical axis through its summit.

20. Height.—If an auroral arc represented a definite self-luminous portion of space of small transverse dimensions at a uniform height above the ground, its height could be accurately determined by observations made with theodolites at the two ends of a measured base, provided the base were not too short compared to the height. If a very long base is taken, it becomes increasingly open to doubt whether the portions of space emitting auroral light to the observers at the two ends are the same. There is also difficulty in ensuring that the observations shall be simultaneous, an important matter especially when the apparent velocity is considerable. If the base is short, definite results can hardly be hoped for unless the height is very moderate. Amongst the best-known theodolite determinations of height are those made at Bossekop in Norway by the French Expedition of 1838-1839 (16) and the Norwegian Expedition of 1882-1883, and those made in the latter year by the Swedes at Cape Thorsden and the Danes at Godthaab. At Bossekop and Cape Thorsden there were a considerable proportion of negative or impossible parallaxes. Much the most consistent results were those obtained at Godthaab by Paulsen (15). The base was 5.8 km. (about 3½ miles) long, the ends being in the same magnetic meridian, on opposite sides of a fiord, and observations were confined to this meridian, strict simultaneity being secured by signals. Heights were calculated only when the observed parallax exceeded 1°, but this happened in three-fourths of the cases. The calculated heights—all referring to the lowest border of the aurora—varied from 0.6 to 67.8 km. (about 0.4 to 42 m.), the average being about 20 km. (12 m.). Regular arcs were selected in most cases, but the lowest height obtained was for a collection of rays forming a curtain which was actually situated between the two stations.

In 1885 Messrs Garde and Eherlin made similar observations at Nanortalik near Cape Farewell in Greenland, but using a base of only 1250 metres (about ¾ m.). Their results were very similar to Paulsen’s. On one occasion twelve observations, extending over half an hour, were made on a single arc, the calculated heights varying in a fairly regular fashion from 1.6 to 12.9 km. (about 1 to 8 m.). The calculated horizontal distances of this arc varied between 5 and 24 km. (about 3 and 15 m.), the motion being sometimes towards, sometimes away from the observers, but not apparently exceeding 3 km. (nearly 2 m.) per minute. Heights of arcs have often been calculated from the apparent altitudes at stations widely apart in Europe or America. The heights calculated in this way for the under surface of the arc, have usually exceeded 100 m.; some have been much in excess of this figure. None of the results so obtained can be accepted without reserve, but there are several reasons for believing that the average height in Greenland is much below that in lower latitudes. Heights have been calculated in various less direct ways, by observing for instance the angular altitude of the summit of an arc and the angular interval between its extremities, and then making some assumption such as that the portion visible to an observer may be treated as a circle whose centre lies over the so-called auroral pole. The mean height calculated at Arctic stations, where careful observations have been made, in this or analogous ways, has varied from 58 km. (about 36 m.) at Cape Thorsden (Gyllensköld) to 227 km. (about 141 m.) at Bossekop (Bravais). The height has also been calculated on the hypothesis that auroral light has its source where the atmospheric pressure is similar to that at which most brilliancy is observed when electric discharges pass in vacuum tubes. Estimates on this basis have suggested heights of the order of 50 km. (about 31 m.). There are, of course, many uncertainties, as the conditions of discharge in the free atmosphere may differ widely from those in glass vessels. If the Godthaab observations can be trusted, auroral discharges must often occur within a few miles of the earth’s surface in Arctic regions. In confirmation of this view reference may be made to a number of instances where observers—e.g. General Sabine, Sir John Franklin, Prof. Selim Lemström, Dr David Walker (at Fort Kennedy in 1858-1859), Captain Parry (Fort Bowen, 1825) and others—have seen aurora below the clouds or between themselves and mountains. One or two instances of this kind have even been described in Scotland. Prof. Cleveland Abbe (20) has given a full historical account of the subject to which reference may be made for further details.
21. Brightness.—In auroral displays the brightness often varies greatly over the illuminated area and changes rapidly. Estimates of the intensity of the light have been based on various arbitrary scales, such for instance as the size of type which the observer can read at a given distance. The estimate depends in the case of reading type on the general illumination. In other cases scales have been employed which make the result mainly depend on the brightest part of the display. At Jan Mayen (8) in 1882-1883 a scale was employed running from 1, taken as corresponding to the brightness of the milky way, to 4, corresponding to full moonlight. The following is an analysis of the results obtained, showing the number of times the different grades were reached:—


Scale of
Intensity.
1. 2. 3. 4. Mean
Intensity.
Arcs
Bands
Rays
Corona
27
46
30
 3
53
83
116
14
13
49
138
12
 1
22
28
12
1.87
2.24
2.21
2.81


On one or two occasions at Jan Mayen auroral light is described as making the full moon look like an ordinary gas jet in presence of electric light, whilst rays could be seen crossing and brighter than the moon’s disk. Such extremely bright auroras seem very rare, however, even in the Arctic. There is a general tendency for both bands and rays to appear brightest at their lowest parts; arcs seldom appear as bright at their summits as nearer the horizon. It is not unusual for arcs and bands to look as if pulses or waves of light were travelling along them; also the direction in which these pulses travel does not seem to be wholly arbitrary. Movements to the east were twice as numerous at Jan Mayen and thrice as numerous at Traurenberg as movements to the west. In some cases changes of intensity take place round the auroral zenith, simulating the effect that would be produced by a cyclonic rotation of luminous matter. In the case of isolated patches the intensity often waxes and wanes as if a search-light were being thrown on and turned off.

22. Colour.—The ordinary colour of aurora is white, usually with a distinct yellow tint in the brighter forms, but silvery white when the light is faint. When the light is intense and changing rapidly, red is not infrequently present, especially towards the lower edge. Under these circumstances, green is also sometimes visible, especially towards the zenith. Thus a bright auroral ray may seem red towards the foot and green at its summit, with yellow intervening. In some cases the green may be only a contrast effect. Other colours, e.g. violet, have occasionally been noticed but are unusual.

23. Spectrum.—The spectrum of aurora consists of a number of lines. Numerous measurements have been made of the wave-lengths of the brightest. One line, in the yellow green, is so dominant optically as often to be described as the auroral line. Its wave-length is probably very near 5571 tenth-metres, and it is very close to, if not absolutely coincident with, a prominent line in the spectrum of krypton. This line is so characteristic that its presence or absence is the usual criterion for deciding