Hello dear ‘Aurora Borealis lovers’!
I came back from Finland 3 weeks ago and I still can’t stop thinking about the magical dance of the Lady in Green. To see the Northern Lights was always on my bucket list. After my first sleepless night in Finnish Lapland, I was so amazed by what I have seen that I became addicted to it. Aurora Borealis is truly one of the most beautiful natural phenomena on Earth!
Here’s all you need to know about the Aurora hunting. I hope this post will help you experience the magic of the Northern Lights!
What does Aurora look like?
I found a perfect (non scientific) Aurora Borealis description:
“First, Auroras start very slow, giving you a hint of their arrival. Then, all of the sudden, green arches start to appear over the horizon. They grow in size and strength, and start showing their hidden colors: purple, pink and yellow… The dance starts to accelerate. The arches quickly build up, change their shapes, and disappear within seconds, as if a heavenly painter is delicately painting his brush strokes, but all of a sudden chooses to conceal his work.”
What causes the Aurora Borealis?
I will not go into scientific explanations here, as the answer is simple – the SUN! The Aurora Borealis happens due to the interaction between the Solar Wind and the Earth’s magnetic field (when particles from the sun bump into the Earth’s magnetic field). If you want to find more about this see HERE
What’s the best time of year to see the Northern Lights?
Although the northern lights are always present at the poles, we cannot see them during the summer months as nights are just too bright. Therefore the best time to see the Northern Lights is between LATE AUGUST TILL THE END OF MARCH, when the nights become darker.
According to the statistic, September, October and March are some of the best months to see the Aurora. I’ve spent few weeks in Finnish Lapland during January and February and I have maaaany opportunities to see the lights (as you can see from the pictures), so I have to say JANUARY and especially FEBRUARY are MY FAVORITE MONTHS to see Aurora.
What’s the best time of night to see the Northern Lights?
During January and February I’ve mostly seen Auroras between 22 PM and midnight. Some nights they lasted till 3, 4 AM (more than 5 hours) and sometimes they stayed just for a half an hour or even less. If nights are darker and brighter Auroras can be seen longer. Bad weather, however, is the number one factor that can prevent you from seeing the lights.
How many nights do I need to stay to see the Northern Lights?
At least a week, but the more the better! Aurora is very unpredictable so the more days you stay in the north the bigger are the chances to see the lights. I was very lucky as on my second day in Lapland I have seen the Auroras! And they continued 4 nights after, every night with a more spectacular performance!
Where is the best place to see the Northern Lights?
There is an area called the ‘Aurora belt’ where seeing the lights is more likely. It includes North of Finland, Swedish Lapland, Norway and Russia’s Kola peninsula (places at the latitudes around and above the Arctic Circle in the north). You can also see the Aurora Borealis in Iceland, Southern Greenland, Northern Siberia, Alaska and Northern Canada.
Places I would recommend to see the lights?
- Finland: Tankavaara, Saariselkä, Inari, Ivalo
- Sweden: Abisko, Kiruna
- Norway: Tromso
Aurora forecasts – can we predict Aurora Borealis activity?
Aurora forecast is a tricky business. Sometimes forecasts promises strong Aurora, but there are none in sight and vice versa. Predictions are always most reliable the closer we are to the dates in question (2 – 3 days ahead).
One of the most reliable factor that shows you the Aurora activity is KP INDEX or the Aurora activity index. KP index ranges from 0-9 with 0 being the lowest amount of activity and 9 being the greatest. You can see Aurora from index 2 and greater (most of my images are taken on nights with KP index 3 – 5).
There are several places online where you can access the Aurora forecasts for free, such as: Space Weather Prediction Centre, Spaceweather.com, SpaceWeatherLive.com, and for your smart phones, there is one great app that all Aurora hunters have to download: My Aurora Forecast – Northern Lights & Borealis.
Watch my Aurora Borealis time-laps taken in Finnish Lapland in January/February 2017:
Can you see the Aurora with the naked eye or it’s all a camera scam?
To be clear, YES, you can see the Aurora with the naked eye!
Sometimes when the Aurora is weak you can see just a white, pale green arch in the sky while on the photography it looks very green and spectacular. Why? Because of long exposures! With longer exposure time, your camera captures light over time in a single frame, so Auroras look stronger and more pronounced than the naked eye.
First time I saw the Auroras they were weak and I was a bit disappointed as I was expecting spectacular show, not just white, almost cloudy look. After a few hours, around midnight, the lights became stronger and they started showing their true colors, green, yellow and purple. I was so amazed, that I forgot to take photos! I just wanted to stop the time and to stay in that indescribable moment forever.
Aurora Tips & Tricks
The best tip I can give you when it comes to Aurora is to be extremely PATIENT and WAIT FOR IT! I have seen a lot of tourists who came on the spot looking at the sky for 15 – 20 minutes and after they haven’t seen anything, they left. You have to spend all night looking up there and searching for a best place to see the lights.
During the day we went with a car around Inari area and checked some locations that we thought would be good for seeing the Aurora at night (DARK LOCATIONS, away from the city lights).
If you not sure in your ‘Aurora chasing skills’ or you don’t have a car while in the north than the best way to see the lights might be to book one of many ‘Aurora Hunting Tours’.