A Wondrous Illustrated Celebration of Earth’s Most Otherworldly Spectacle of Light and Color – Brain Pickings

by Emma

In 1621, already questioning his life in the priesthood — the era’s safest and most reputable career for the educated — the 29-year-old Pierre Gassendi, a mathematical prodigy since childhood, traveled to the Arctic circle as he began diverting his passionate erudition toward Aristotelian philosophy and astronomy. There, under the polar skies, he witnessed an otherworldly spectacle on Earth — our planet’s most intimate and dramatic contact with its home star, a chromatic swirl of the ephemeral and the eternal unloosed as solar winds blow millions of charged particles from the Sun across the orrery of the Solar System and into Earth’s atmosphere, where our magnetic fields carry them toward the poles. As they collide with the particles of different atmospheric gasses, they ionize and discharge energy as photons of different colors — red, blue, green, and violent — painting the nocturne with the waking dream of pastel-technicolor dawn.

A Wondrous Illustrated Celebration of Earth’s Most Otherworldly Spectacle of Light and Color – Brain Pickings

Awestruck with the natural poetry and the mythic feeling-tone of the luminous spectacle, Gassendi named what he saw Aurora borealis — after Aurora, the Roman goddess of dawn, and Borealis, the Latin word for “northern.” Eventually, as explorers braved the icy oceanic expanses to visit the polar regions of the Southern hemisphere over the following centuries, they adapted Gassendi’s etymology to name the Antarctic version of the bright display. Aurora australis, after the Latin word for “southern.”

From the land of Aurora, australis, comes Seeking an Aurora (public library) — a work of transcendence and tenderness by New Zealand author-artist duo Elizabeth Pulford and Anne Bannock. Their spare, poetic prose and soulful paintings interleave to plush an inner landscape of wonder, suspended between the creaturely and the cosmic.

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