Ghostly lights attract

Dundowran Beach couple Libby and Ray Johnston will brave the snowy wastes chasing nature's greatest light show.
Dundowran Beach couple Libby and Ray Johnston will brave the snowy wastes chasing nature's greatest light show. Contributed

TWO local astronomers will brave the depths of the Arctic Circle to study the dazzling Northern Lights.

Their trek will use dog sleds, snowmobiles, reindeer sleighs, snow shoes and glacier jeeps to cross Norway, Sweden and Iceland.

Dundowran Beach residents Libby and Ray Johnston operate Star Dreaming Australia which introduces astronomy to schools and community groups.

The Northern Lights are created by solar particles colliding with gases in the atmosphere.

The curtains of light appear and disappear at random and often quite quickly.

In the extreme conditions, Ray's experience as a Himalayan climber and guide will help them manage the cold.

Instead of man-made fibres, they will wear merino wool underlayers topped with yak wool parkas hand-knitted by the Sherpa people of the Everest region.

"They live in the cold, so they know what to wear. I wore these when climbing and trekking and they are amazing," Ray said.

They will also be visiting observatories in Scandinavia such as the 16th century observatory of Tycho Brahe, one of the great pre-telescopic astronomers, and the modern Esrange Space Centre, a base for Virgin Galactic's sub-orbital tourist flights.

While in Iceland, they will be accompanied by one of the world's leading vulcanologists as they study the island's volcanoes and compare them with the volcanoes on other planets and moons in the Solar System.

They will travel in specially equipped "super jeeps" which will allow them to drive over glaciers and lava flows.

The couple will also be visiting to Eyjafjallajökull, "the volcano that stopped the world" when it erupted in 2010.

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