Sunday, February 18, 2007

The Northern Lights have seen queer sights. (Robert Service)

In the late ‘70s, I had a pal who purchased an abandoned mining site about 27 miles north of Fairbanks Alaska. He aimed to make it a lodge, but things got in the way. The hope was that he could attract Japanese honeymooners who consider it a portent of good fortune to see the Northern Lights on their wedding night.
Down the road was the Poker Flat Research Range described on its own website as “the world’s only scientific rocket launching facility owned by a university.”

Almost every night, rockets would go up from Poker Flat. I always wondered what it was all about. The answer that always came back was they were studying the Northern Lights. It kind of struck me as strange because, frankly, the Northern Lights may be eerie looking, but there is not a great mystery about what causes them. I figured they were part of a spy program that took a peek over the North Pole at our supposed enemies (in those days, the Russians.)

Anyway, today, AFP is reporting that
The US space agency NASA has launched its first five-satellite mission on board a single rocket aiming to unlock the age-old mysteries of the aurora borealis.

The two-year mission, dubbed THEMIS -- an acronym for Time History of Events and Macroscale Interactions during Substorms -- was launched successfully late Saturday after a 24-hour delay, NASA said in a statement.
Maybe I am getting a little hypersensitized to being lied to, or maybe I am just suspicious by nature. But here’s what we know so far.

They have been studying the Aurora Borealis for 30 years or so, and now NASA announces a “new” program. The name of the program is THEMIS, which coincidentally is the name of the the Titan who was the goddess of justice, of whom Homer said, “Themis, who looseth and gathereth the meetings of men.” (Odyssey, Book II)

Soon it will be March, named after Mars, the Roman name for the God of War. History teaches us that March is well named, because wars tend to start in that month. And thus it is that the zodiac sign of Aries begins in March, Aries being the Greek name for Mars. Aries, of whom Hesiod, Homer’s contemporary, said, “ally of Themis.”

It’s thirty years later, and I am still wondering what is so interesting about the Northern Lights that justifies so many satellite launchings, each one of which does damage to the ozone layer. I am still wondering if it’s part of a spy program that takes a peek over the North Pole at our supposed enemies. And I am still wondering if I am being lied to.

“… and tell ‘em Big Mitch sent ya!”


BigMitch said...

The Japanese myth holds that a child conceived while the Aurora are playing overhead would be born under an extremely fortunate sign.

NorthwoodsSTORY said...

Hey ya Big Mitch:

Keweenaw County, Michigan has some awesome auroras and a little known rocket pad. When the snow melts about April 18th, I mebbe goin' up that way.

Also know for a copper mineral rush in the 1840's, the Copper Country is life in the slow lane and I like it that way.