Polar explorers

"…most of the readers of sketches of Arctic travel would certainly consider it an indefensible omission if the author did not give an account of the aurora as seen from his winter station."
~Adolf E. Nordenskiöld, Voyages of the Vega Round Asia
and Europe, 1881

After indigenous people, polar explorers were the next to extensively record the beauty of the aurora. Encounters with the aurora were described in their memoirs, narratives, and ships' logs.

Northwest Passage
Many early polar explorers saw the aurora while searching for the fabled Northwest Passage: a shortcut from Europe to the Orient. Before the completion of the Panama Canal, ships had to travel all the way around the treacherous tip of South America to sail from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean.

In 1845, frustrated by the continued failure to discover the Northwest Passage, British Admiralty called on its most experienced arctic explorer, Sir John Franklin. Franklin and his crew of 129 men boarded Her Majesty's ships Terror and Erebus. Franklin's expedition turned into one of the most tragic of all polar explorations. The ships were beset by sea ice and all members of the party perished.

The search for John Franklin
Lady Franklin financed a series of expeditions in an intensive search for her husband and his crew. Their remains were found on a small island in the northern Canadian wilderness. Although the Franklin expedition itself was a failure, many of their search parties brought home stories and reports on the aurora, making the aurora known to the rest of the world.

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The Northwest Passage
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Helpful Links:

Fridtjof Nansen -
a short biography

Sir John Franklin

Northwest Passage -
NWP historic park

Worldbook Polar Explorers


John Franklin
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Search for Sir John Franklin
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Quest for the Poles
Firdtjof Nansen, was a polar explorer who tried to reach the North Pole aboard his ship Fram in 1895-96, but was blocked by ice. He was a talented artist who left many beautiful woodcuts and paintings depicting the aurora in books about his journey.

The Southern Hemisphere has its own aurora, the aurora australis. Captain James Cook left one of the first European accounts of these Southern Lights. Other explorers, in their race for the South Pole, left descriptions in their journals as well. Among them Robert Scott and Roald Amundsen.
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Firdtjof Nansen
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Nansen woodcut
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Geophysical Institute
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site last modified: August 2003 maintained by Asahi Aurora Web Manager