This Day in History – August 28th, 1859


The name Aurora Borealis is the Latin for “Northern Lights.” Aurora translates as “sunrise” and is also the name of the Roman goddess of dawn. An aurora is a natural light display in the sky especially in the high latitude (Arctic and Antarctic) regions, caused by the collision of solar wind and magnetospheric charged particles with the high altitude atmosphere (thermosphere).

Most auroras occur in a band known as the auroral zone, which typically are to be found in the northern and southern poles, on this day in 1859 there was a geomagnetic storm so powerful that it caused the Aurora Borealis to shine so brightly that it could be seen clearly over parts of USA, Europe, and even as far afield as Japan.


First Edition of the “Northern Lights”

Through out history, the Aurora Borealis has inspired much superstition and sparked the imagination of many, including British writer Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials (1995 to 2000) trilogy of books. The first book in the trilogy is now commonly known as The Golden Compass, but originally when published by Scholastic UK in 1995 it was titled Northern Lights. The first book is set in a parallel universe in which despite being contemporary to time of publication is a world that is distinctly Victorian in feel and has a very Steampunk feel; the second book spills into our world before moving on to many other parallel universes that begin to collide with each other as the quest unfolds. The adventure starts with the journey of Lyra Belacqua to the Arctic in search of her missing friend, Roger Parslow, and her imprisoned uncle, Lord Asriel, who has been conducting experiments with a mysterious substance known as “Dust.”

The book is very respected and in 1995 won the Carnegie Medal from the Library Association, recognising the year’s outstanding children’s book by a British subject. For the 70th anniversary of the Medal, it was named one of the top ten winning works by a panel, composing the ballot for a public election of the all-time favorite. Northern Lights won the public vote from that shortlist and was thus named the all-time “Carnegie of Carnegies” on 21 June 2007. 

Alas, despite its potential, the 2007 Hollywood movie adaptation of the novel was a failure at the box office amid controversy from several American religious groups protesting the themes of the books, and thus ensured that the rest of the trilogy, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass were never made into films . . . but more about this movie in another article.

golden compass movie poster

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