Who Discovered The Northern Lights

The northern lights, also known as the aurora borealis, have been a mystery for centuries and even more of a mystery is who discovered the northern lights. In order to make this decision, you will need to examine the documents on the history of this phenomenon. The discovery of the northern lights is just as mystifying as any other natural occurrence in our lives.

Discovery by Naming

Pierre Gassendi, a man of many occupations including astronomer, priest, scientist, and French philosopher has been attributed to naming the northern lights. In 1621, Gassendi named the lights Aurora Borealis. Using the Greek name for the wind Boreas and the Roman Goddess Aurora which is the goddess of the dawn.

Discovery via recordings

The first recording of these unusual lights in the northern sky are found in cave drawings home in south France. These drawings date back 30,000. However, there are many different sightings and explanations of the lights that were seen in the sky. In China, the ancient writings depicted the northern lights as dragons, animals, and fire with the oldest recording dating back to 2,600 BC with the first sighting noted in 687 BC.

Discovery via Written documentation

By searching through various books, there are several different writings explaining or describing the northern lights. You can find these in writings of

  • Anaximenes, Greek philosopher
  • The first chapter of Ezekiel in the Holy Bible
  • Hippocrates
  • Aeschylus
  • Aristotle

Some of the writings only describe seeing the lights such as Anaximes stating the lights were seen in 593 BC, while other writings such as of Hippocrates, Aeschylus, and Aristotle provide their explanation to the lights saw such as in the writings in the Holy Bible and in the book.

Other written documents mentioning the northern lights include a story of King Philip of Macedonia when his attack of Byzantium was interrupted due to the northern lights lighting the sky, which allowed the city to see the soldiers coming out of a tunnel to attack the city. Another such incident occurred in 460 BC in ancient Rome when soldiers were discovered due to the illumination of the sky.

Scientific explanation

For those that are more interested in scientific data, you will have to look at documents in the 17th century, which begins with Gassendi naming the lights. 

On the other hand, the first to use the name, Aurora Borealis was Galileo and his student Buiducci that was first seen in 1616 and in 1622.

All other documentation from the 17th century forward is explanation of the effects, what causes, and other information from research and data of various scientists around the world. With the latest discover attributed to Kristian Birkeland and Carl Stormer, Norwegian professors. The printed information explains the northern lights are a part of electric currents found at both the north and south poles.

The main explanation published today concludes the northern lights are gas that when charged with electricity particles from the sun glows with brilliant colors in the atmosphere.

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