It is odd that I don't collect stamps seeing as how I love the post office (I go there several times a week) and that I am interested in so many of the subjects of each year's first class stamps. This month a new stamp came out of particular interest to me: the Polar Lights, also called the Northern Lights, or the Aurora Borealis.
I have never seen them in person but have heard that they are occasionally visible from Seattle, where I live. My better bet would be Idaho or Montana in the Lower 48 or I could almost guarantee to see them if I spent some time in Alaska.
What are these strange and wonderful things? From the USPS press release:
Oct. 1, 2007, the U.S. Postal Service will issue this pane of 20 41-cent stamps with two designs that feature photographs of the polar lights, often known as auroras.
"The polar lights are a luminous glow seen in the night sky at high latitudes surrounding the north and south magnetic poles. These auroras are the result of a magnetic storm — when Earth’ magnetic field is unusually active due to a dynamic interaction with the Sun. During magnetic storms, energetic electrons descend from space and collide with molecules in the upper atmosphere, leading to the emission of green and sometimes red light. Auroras come in different visual forms, including arcs, curtains and rays, and are a relatively common sight in Alaska, Canada and northern Europe. During particularly intense magnetic storms, auroras can occasionally be seen in some of the lower 48 states as well.
“Aurora” is the Latin name of the ancient Roman goddess of the dawn. The aurora borealis are the northern lights, and the aurora australis are the southern lights. Through history, auroras have inspired a colorful folklore, especially among northern Europeans and the Inuit people of Siberia and North America, where the lights have been attributed to human or animal spirits and have sometimes been thought to foretell ominous news. Today, the aurora is the subject of scientific investigation, with researchers from many countries collaborating during International Polar Year 2007–2008."