Driving into the wilderness in midnight hours in subzero conditions; making a bonfire fire in a Laavu, standing by the fireplace and sharing stories with like-minded travelers from around the world; savoring every bite of the barbecued reindeer sausage while sipping on warm blueberry juice; enjoying every bit of nature’s quietude; setting up the tripod and waiting for the grand Auroras to appear, and when it would appear the fingers wouldn’t just stop clicking the frame, for everyone knows how elusive and tricky Auroras can be! It feels great to admit that I’ve relished some of the most incredible experiences in a quaint corner in the Arctic region of our lovely planet?
As I pen down this blog, my gaze remains transfixed on the massive glass windowpane of my secluded apartment in Sudentie 22, Rovaniemi. Living in Lapland is a privilege in itself! The views of milky way galaxy, faint city light, and the dancing Auroras, all of them located 10-15 km from my residence!
We are in the first week of September, and we’ve already had some splendid Aurora-soaked nights here in Rovaniemi – Lapland’s capital in northern Finland sitting right across the Arctic Circle. For your information, Arctic Circle is the northernmost latitude on the earth and is home to the exotic and fragile Arctic ecosystem. Traversing the Arctic line and watching the Auroras from the absolute wilderness is on several wanderer’s bucket list!
I too once fancied watching Northern Lights in real life, and 3 months back, things started falling into place. Finally, nature conspired to put me right in the heart of Arctic land. When I set foot in Rovaniemi in Finland during the midnight Sun phase, little did I know that I would be chasing some of the most colourful Northern Lights in Lapland for several nights. The best part remains that I was hunting Auroras as a professional tour guide in Lapland for Nordic Unique Travels.
Through this blog, I will try to pass on the useful information about the beautiful Auroras. I will also try to answer most of your questions related to the Northern Lights, which will make your Northern Light hunting experience more accurate. So here’s everything that you need to know about Aurora Borealis aka Northern Lights.
Best time to watch Northern Lights in Lapland
After August, the nights in Lapland start to get darker and longer. It’s time for Autumn to paint Rovaniemi with its vibrant colours. And with Autumn comes the prestigious Northern Lights in Rovaniemi! Everyone in the Arctic World awaits it. Tourism in Rovaniemi depends on the Arctic Lights big time because summer is considered to be an offseason there and everyone waits for snowy winter and the magical Northern Lights.
Sometimes they appear as early as August-end. Autumn (September – October) is the best time to watch Nothern Lights in Rovaniemi. However, the Polar lights appear in different parts of Lapland from August-end to March.
What is Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights?
Northern Lights are the result of the collision of charged particles from the Sun with the gaseous particles from the Earth’s atmosphere. There are quite a few shades of the Auroras, and to be honest, not all the colours of the Northern Lights that you see are photoshopped. Most of them are for real! 😛
What causes the different colours of the Northern Lights?
Photo Courtesy: Lorenzo Mirandola
Colour of Northern Lights depends on the type of gaseous particles clashing with each other. It’s all physics! Yellowish-green is the most typical colour of Aurora, which is produced by oxygen molecules located close to 60 miles above the earth. The all-red auroras are rare and produced by high-altitude oxygen. This mostly occurs at an altitude of up to 200 miles from the Earth surface. Nitrogen causes blue or purplish-red aurora.
Apart from sharing with you the vital information, I’ll also debunk myths about Northern Lights. Here are some:
- Aurora is NOT just a winter phenomenon! Autumn is the best time to see the Northern Lights. It’s a widespread notion that Northern Lights can be seen only during winters. Northern Lights can be sighted as early as August-end. This year (2019) it was spotted in the last week of August. If you plan it well, September & October are a perfect time Aurora hunting. Which means, it doesn’t necessarily have to be freezing outside or snowy for you to plan a Northern Light trip. It just has to be completely dark.
- Don’t expect to watch Auroras from the comfort of your room surrounded by city lights (leave alone the exceptional cases of Aurora storm or a great kp of 6 or 7). You must run to the wilderness, where there is absolutely no trace of city lights. Light pollution is the biggest hindrance between you and Northern Lights.
- Mostly, the lights aren’t as strong as you see in the photos, make sure that you have a professional camera and a tripod, or a phone with an advanced camera & a good lens. Normal phones fail miserably to capture the Auroras. My iPhone was a disaster!!
- Predictive apps are good, but nature is unpredictable, so are the Auroras, never take them for granted. You need plenty of patience and lots of luck to watch nature’s grand show! Right now, Aurora is the best available app in the App Store & Play Store to check the Northern Lights forecast.
Some fascinating facts about Northern Lights
- There are roughly 200 nights with Auroras every year.
- Northern Lights are only typically visible in the aurora zone, which is 65° and 72° North. Even though the Auroras are active through the year, they are not visible from April through August. It is the time when the aurora zone experiences nearly 24 hours of daylight. So, Autumn to Spring, i.e. August-end to March, makes for the ideal time to see the Northern Lights.
- Always try to look in the North while Aurora hunting. Which means, if you are in the wilderness, carry a compass if you can!
- At times, the Northern Lights are tricky to capture. Be prepared, keep your eyes open, and wait for it. Auroras keep changing positions.
- The weather in the Arctic changes in a matter of minutes, so you just have to be patient with it. If it’s predicted, it will be there, sooner or later.
- The Northern Lights can be seen in cities across the Arctic Circle and beyond. So you can watch it from – Alaska (most of it), North Canada, Greenland, Iceland, Northern Norway, Sweden, and Finland (Lapland).
- Northern Lights intensity is measured in Kp which is a scale ranging from 0 to 9.
- Red, green, purple, blue, and whitish-grey are the colours of Auroras depending on the altitude of the lights visible.
That will be all for now! I will come up with more blogs on Auroras and the best things to do in Rovaniemi in Summer and Autumn. Stay tuned.