Northern Lights – Aurora Borealis

To understand what causes the Northern Lights is quite a new thing to us people. With science we have a pretty good idea on it now.  At the 18th century the first serious scientific attempts were made to explain the phenomena and the 1950s we really understand how the Aurora formed. It is all about the sun and solar wind. Solar wind travels 92 million miles until reaching Earth’s magnetic field. When solar particles hit the magnetic field, they’re deflected around Earth. Near the poles the solar wind follows the magnetic flux lines deeper towards the poles. When solar wind is getting closer to Earth near the poles it hits our atmosphere and starts to react with atmospheric gases, like oxygen and nitrogen. The interaction makes the particles energized, and as they become energized they emit photos, or light. The most common color we see is green. The reason for that is, that the human eye registers green easier than reds or blues. Another reason is, that solar particles commonly react with oxygen. In Finland we believe that the Norther Lights are caused by fox. The Finnish word for the Northern Lights is revontulet.  This word means “fox fire”.  The story behind this is that the revered fox would run through the snow, he’d sweep his tail back and forth and the sparks created by this would rise into the sky. The Sámi people in Lapland also had other explanations for the Northern Lights. One is that the Auroras were plumes from a whale’s blowhole. One common belief around The World was, that the Auroras were physical manifestations of the souls of the dead.

Where and when can you see Northern Lights

The best chances to see Auroras is in the northernmost part of Finland for example in Kilpisjärvi, Ylläs, Levi and Saariselkä. Best chances for Auroras are at Kilpisjärvi (75 % of nights), then e.g. Ylläs, Levi, Saariselkä (50 % of nights) and more you go to south the lower is probability to see Auroras. The typical time for auroral displays is at midnight, but auroras may occur randomly anytime when it´s dark and the sky is clear enough for seeing them. Aurora hunters should stay alert at least between 21:00 and 02:00. Sometimes Northern Lights can appear and disappear within minutes or those can last hours on the Sky. The thing is, you never know! Summer nights are too light for auroras, those are not visible in sunlight. In late August, nights grow darker, and the aurora season lasts until spring. Considering the weather, the best time for seeing auroras in Northern Finland is in September, October, March and early April.

Northern Lights watching tips

  • Find a dark, open place far away from town lights. Hilltops and lakes are good places.
  • Auroras usually are seen on the northern sky, try to find an unrestricted view toward the northern sky.
  • Optimal weather is dark and cloudless night. If the night sky is clear and starry, chances of seeing the Northern Lights are good.
  • The weather can change fast and vary locally. Thick clouds will prevent you from seeing auroras.
  • Keep your legs warm, as nothing ruins a trip like cold feet. Take a pair that are slightly loose and add extra woolen socks. Winter boots can be bigger than your normal shoes! Also protect your fingers, head and body against the cold.
  • Take a headlamp with you for moving safely in the dark.
  • Remember to move also. It will get your blood flowing and keep you warm.
  • Take a hot coffee, tea, hot chocolate or warm juice in a thermal flask, sandwiches, nuts and chocolate for snacks.
  • Hunting auroras is more fun with your friend. 😀
-Anniina Sources: Ilmatieteen Visit

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