special experiences: AURORA BOREALIS

KAT FINLAND, FINLAND 2016, ICELAND, SPECIAL EXPERIENCES Leave a Comment

We cannot say we visited Finland just to see the northern lights, but I have to admit, it was high up on our priority list of what we wanted to see & do there. We knew already before we left there is no guaranty of spotting them, but hope never dies! And in the end, we were lucky enough to see them! It really was one of those magical moments which are hard to describe. Enjoying the silence around us in the dark night somewhere near the Russian border, we were standing on a bridge and could hear salmon swimming in the river below us, sometime after breathing the extremely cold air for a couple of hours (okay I´m sure it was less than that, but we all lost track of time) – this incredible play of lights in the sky suddenly appeared and there is no doubt, this night was for sure a highlight of the whole trip!

WHAT IS AURORA BOREALIS?


Aurora borealis, the northern lights, polar lights or Revontulet as they call it in Finland, is a term used to describe the phenomenal natural light display in the sky. Shortly explained, the lights are basically a consequence of various collisions between electrically charged particles from the sun and gas atoms awaiting them in the earth´s atmosphere. The colours of Aurora can be green, red, pink, blue, purple and yellow, the lights itself appear in different shapes and sizes – from arches to stretches, patches or scattered clouds and even shooting rays. They generally extend from 80 km to around 600 km above the earth´s surface and are usually good predictable, by observing the Sun and the actions that go on on its surface – meaning one can use different tools in order to observe the activity and predict its happening. Another important thing you need to know is the so-called kp index – a scale of numbers between 0-9 which helps you check your chances of spotting the northern lights depending on your location.

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Pictures taken on our trip in northern Finland (March 2016) – we felt very lucky to see it, especially because we were aware that we were there at the time when the solar activity was not so strong plus we had a full moon shining and making too much light! Therefore the lights were not too flashy, but they did dance for us in the sky for a little while ;).

WHERE & WHEN IN THE WORLD CAN YOU SEE IT?


The lights appear in an irregularly shaped oval centred over each magnetic pole – also the south pole. They are called Aurora borealis in the north and Aurora australis in the south. In case you are wondering how it got its name, here: Aurora = Roman goddess of the dawn, Borealis = Greek god of the North Wind. Makes sense, right :). The best places to see the northern lights are Iceland, Alaska, parts of Canada, northern Sweden, Norway, Finland and Russia. Sometimes they can be seen also in Denmark and even in Germany – but that happens once in a decade. The best place to see Aurora australis is Antarctica, southern Indian Ocean and the southern most tip of New Zealand.

The best months to see the northern lights are between the beginning of October until beginning of April – the days are short then, meaning the darkness is present most of the day and you have a greater chance you see them. The activity of the lights is also cyclic, which means it peaks every 10-11 years.

THE BEST WAY TO SPOT IT


So, first off don´t forget, the luck factor is BIG here! There are many things that have to take place at the same time in order for you to see the lights and to catch exactly such a day you will need luck. Don´t expect you will just look out of the hotel room window at 11PM and there will be a light show in the sky. Here are 3 main parameters which have to happen in the first place:

  • the right ime: from October to April

  • good weather (clear skies in the dark nights)

  • auroral activity has to be strong

INCREASE YOUR CHANCES OF SEEING IT


  • plan to stay at least 5 days as north as possible (in any case above the Arctic circle)

  • watch the weather prediction, but be aware that the situation can change very quickly here, even many times during the day!

  • rather than in a hotel, stay in a cottage outside the village, somewhere where there are not so many street lights

  • if you have a car, drive to a nearby lake or any other open space in the nature, away from the village lights (top of a ski slope is also a great idea)

  • ask the locals about the current auroral activity, usually they know

  • if you prefer to check it out for yourself, put this page into your favourites: http://www.aurora-service.eu/aurora-forecast/

  • get an SMS with up to 1 hour notice about auroral activity, see here: http://www.aurora-service.eu/aurora-alerts/

Consider taking a guided tour – usually a guide will take a small group of people (1 car) for a 4-6 hours “Aurora hunt”. The good thing a bout it is, the guides know the best open places to spot it, they know the current conditions and can estimate the chances of seeing it, they have special maps and satellite photos based on which they choose the places they will take you to. And they can answer all of your questions and explain many interesting facts, plus they save you the driving in the night part! The down side of it: the money. It will cost between 90-140€ (in Finland) and there is simply no guaranty that you even see the lights (of course, no money back).

DON´T FORGET


  • dress very very very warm – in the night the temperatures can easily go down to -25C (depends in which month you are there)

  • take some hot tea with you

  • eat enough before you leave

  • take the tripod for your camera if you plan on making great photos

  • be patient! Sometimes you wait and wait for a couple of hours before the lights appear

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LAST ADVICE


Don´t go to the north just to see the lights, go for the destination itself. It might happen you don´t get to see Aurora at all and are feeling very disappointed at the end, so it´s better to plan in also some other activities that the northern countries are offering in the wintertime. We´ve met quite a few travellers from faraway countries like India, Singapore and Hong Kong who said this was the only reason they came to Finland, to see the lights. And some of them took a guided tour 3 nights in a row only to see.. well, nothing. So in the end – it´s all about LUCK!

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What is aurora borealis & useful tips on how to spot it

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