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Aurora explored in film by scientists and Inupiat elders

Elders shared stories about the aurora


When the northern lights are bright and strong, the ancestors are happy, according to Inupiaq elders highlighted in a new documentary by the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

“Kiguguyat: The Northern Lights” is full of information about the aurora provided by both Inupiaq people and UAF Geophysical Institute scientists. The video, produced by the GI’s Cultural Connections project, will be screened during the Festival of Native Arts, Saturday. March 5 in the Davis Concert Hall on the  Fairbanks campus. The screening will be part of the UAF Alaska Native Oratory Competition and the Dena Indigenous Film Celebration, which are slated to run 1-4 p.m. People are encouraged to comment on the film via a feedback survey that will be offered to those who attend the screening.

“We learned so much about Inupiaq culture from the elders,” said Lynda McGilvary, project director. “We could continue forever and never get to the bottom of all their knowledge.

“It’s not surprising that the northern lights are significant in Alaska Native cultures,” McGilvary added.

In the northernmost part of Alaska, the aurora is a welcome source of light when it appears, elders said in the film. During the long winters, the sun sets in late November and pops back up again in late January.

In the video, elders shared stories about the aurora that they learned as children. Interspersed through the movie are science lessons on how the aurora starts as a sun flare that sends solar winds to Earth. Energized particles in the winds then interact with gases in Earth’s magnetosphere and cause the synchronous lights at both poles.

The Geophysical Institute’s Design Services group, along with Robert Prince of UAF’s Journalism Department, produced the film. Cultural Connections is possible through a grant from the U.S. Department of Education and is meant to help reinforce Inupiaq culture and language while teaching the science of aurora.


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