Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Bees and the Northern Lights

Three days ago the bees were acting up. Temperatures were below 10 C, and so I expected them to remain huddled in a ball inside the log, but there they were, buzzing in circles, darting here and there. They clustered in large groups on the log. Some took off to forage, but others, plain excited danced in zig-zags to the music of  an unseen piper. Some alighted in Amber’s hair when she approached the hive. A first!

Meanwhile, unseen by us,  a large mass of plasma erupted from the sun and began its journey earthwards. Did the bees sense it? I’m quite sure that they’re aware of many influences that you and I don’t notice. Our unconscious thoughts and feelings for one. Geomagnetic storms are known to affect their WaggleDance.  They have a close relationship with the sun. Adult worker larvae take 21 days to develop, the rotation period of the sun. When the Queen takes her mating flight which way does she fly? Directly toward the sun. It’s well established that worker bees use the sun’s position when executing their Waggle Dance --- a complicated set of gyrations performed on the honeycomb to tell other foragers where the best food supply can be found. And what are beeswax and honey if not energy sources --- the sun’s energy stored by bees and ready for burning.

Clearly I didn't understand what the bees were telling me or I would not have been so surprised when Charles called last night to tell me that the Aurora was active. I hung up quickly and darted outside. There it was on the northern horizon, a curtain of greenish-white extending a quarter of the way to the zenith. Amber even brought out Ellie to look, but poor Ellie, just out of a bath, found the warmth of the indoor fire more inviting than the green thing-a-jig on the horizon. From the white haze, several green flames shot upwards, waving, hair-like. I thought of my camera, but realized that by the time I fished it out of my clutter, the flames would be gone. Oh well, that’s why UFO’s are never properly photographed either.  A second green curtain developed higher in the sky. You knew that it wasn't a cloud because stars shone steadily through it. Minutes passed, the lights shifted  to cluster brightest under the pole star. A large pink glow gathered close to the horizon, remained there for a few minutes before dissipating. The green flames died away and there remained the white glow that was not from street lights.

Luckily, others were able to capture the show.

Did the bees know about the solar explosion before it arrived? I don't rule it out. Barbara Shipman, a mathematician at Rochester University described their the Waggle Dance  in terms of a six-dimensional figure, one that can also describe the behavior of sub-atomic quarks. I've no idea what her discovery means except that bees remain extremely mysterious, with an intelligence that far surpasses what you'd expect of the little things. Perhaps they're not limited by our three dimensions.

Reluctantly I went inside the house. Daily life --- what people call “the real world” was calling, even though it’s probably less real than we think. This was the first time I’d seen the Aurora since returning to Scotland. It’s an unexpected guest, beautiful and uncommon. When it’s there you want to stay with it every minute. You don’t know when you’ll get to see it again.

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