This article explores the influence of conventions set by The Photographic Atlas of Auroral Forms, published by the International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics (1930), on protocols employed at Arctic stations researching the aurora borealis during the Second International Polar Year (1932–1933). The atlas was created by a committee led by Professor Carl Størmer, the leading auroral scientist of the early twentieth century. It categorized auroral forms, established codes for viewing the phenomenon through the camera lens, and provided a multitude of carefully selected photographs to direct the reader. Responding to a call for greater emphasis on verticality in studies of twentieth-century atmospheric science, this paper addresses the vertical dimension as both a consideration in the process of visually documenting the fleeting and intangible forms of the aurora as well as a subject of study in its own right, in relation to altitude measurements of the phenomenon. With a focus on the specific instrumentation used, light is shed on the difficulties of calibration across polar stations, bodily comportments involved in viewing aurorae, and properties of the northern lights revealed through temporal distance from the display. In seeking to answer the methodological question of whether atlases reflect the reality of scientific practices, I analyze how The Atlas of Auroral Forms affected observational routines among Norwegian, British, Canadian, American, and Dutch polar year groups. Emphasis is placed on instances of divergence from its guidance to demonstrate that research practices do not always follow inexorably from an instructive text, even given the most favorable of conditions.

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