The event was the Northern Lights Spectacular, a show that had its première at London's Science Museum in 2008 . This fusion of poetry, physics and film about the aurora borealis was sponsored by a group of auroral scientists from the University of Leicester, the Radio & Space Plasma Physics Group. And despite the sleet and ice, the Space Centre's Shuttle Suite was packed out with families and auroral fans who came to enjoy a taste of the Arctic lights.
Brian McClave, an award-winning photo-video artist, also travelled to Leicester to introduce the world's 'first successful stereoscopic video of the Aurora Borealis', a film he'd created with physicist George Millward. Donning spectacles to watch his 3-D films of the aurora and solar flares, we saw a green aurora unfurl itself in the dark and watched eruptions and storms on the surface of the sun. As Brian said, these fiery images were somehow 'chilling' to see in all their ferocity and beauty.
Meanwhile I performed ancient stories of the Northern Lights as told by indigenous Arctic peoples. (See: Firebridge to Skyshore: A Northern Lights' Journey published Original Plus 2009). I particularly enjoyed Last Breath Singing where the audience become 'friendly spirits' waving coloured glowsticks in the dark to re-create the eerie spectacle of the polar lights.
The Space Centre provided the perfect setting for this other-worldly phenomenon. Where Inuits and Saamis saw the 'Land of Day' as a realm of spirits, science reveals the dimension of space opening in our skies.
Dr. Darren Wright unveiled the story of how the aurora are created by solar plasma interacting with gases in the earth's atmosphere. Dr. Jon Nichols was able to show film clips shot from space of the aurora. His presentation included a recent film of images of the aurora on Saturn he collated from the Hubble Space Telescope. Our audience reacted enthusiastically to the mix of physics and imagery and poetry. Here are some of their comments:
'Good for the brain and good for the soul!'
'This show really brought out the WOW! factor in astro-physics.'
'Beautiful poems, and so well performed.'