Our Northern Lights Blog
As with most of our guests, my first impression of Lapland in the winter is one of awe that so much snow can possibly exist in one place.
I was never fortunate to go skiing or anything like that when I was younger, so for me this was the first time I had seen what real winter can look like.
It is obvious when you travel to somewhere like Nellim in Finnish Lapland that the snow in the UK is really rather pitiful and quite literally pales into comparison to the thick deep white snow of Lapland. It covers everything – roads, paths, rooftops, trees, frozen lakes, giving the whole place a magical, pristine and beautiful feel.
One of the bests parts about working for The Aurora Zone is we are privileged enough to get the chance to witness one of nature’s most magnificent spectacles.
But just to put your mind at rest it is not like other industries whereby once you are on the inside you know the secrets so you can be quietly smug when you see the average Joe trying to achieve the same.
No, there is no magic aurora switch that only travel aurora specialists have access to….we have to go through the same trials and tribulations as our clients, ‘Will they, won’t they appear’, of, ‘Is that shadow? Is that cloud moving? Can I see a hint of green?’
Prior to my recent trip to Sweden everyone asked what it was that I was most looking forward to and almost every time my response was to see the Northern Lights of course! As soon as I landed at the airport after a short 2 hour 30 minute direct flight the adventure began.
With a full agenda of activities to keep me busy during my trip I started off with a snowshoe hike through the snowy forest guided by a wilderness guide.
As I strapped the snowshoes on to the bottom of my winter boots he explained the route we would be taking and what to expect as we ventured into the wilderness.
Before my recent trip to Sweden my knowledge of Swedish cuisine was limited to the chef on the Muppet Show.
Who would of thought that in a mere four days I would have sampled everything from moose carpaccio, smoked reindeer pasta and delicious Arctic Char caught freshly out of the nearest lake.
And I haven't even mentioned the cinnamon buns yet...
How appropriate that on St Patrick's Day, a huge geomagnetic storm should set the Aurora Borealis dancing across the skies from North America to Northern Scandinavia.
Due to the altitude with which solar particles collide with our atmosphere, the Aurora is usually predominantly green which seems to hit exactly the right St Patrick's Day notes. However, because of the sheer ferocity of the geomagnetic storm raging above our head, today's Auroras are likely to be multi-coloured with yellows, reds, pinks and blues as much to the fore as the more "traditional" green.
Most people when they visit Swedish Lapland head to the far North to Abisko and Kiruna or spend time around the Lulea Archipelago in the south. In doing so they miss the secret that is Tärendö and the Forest Hotel. Location wise you have to look closely at a map. Tärendö is located on the Tärendö river which is a tributary of the larger Tornio rover. Follow this river north and you will pass the Ice Hotel at Jukkasjarvi. The village has a population of 208 people so befriending every inhabitant on Facebook is not going to exceed your ‘friends’ quota. The town, however, does boast one Olympic Gold medallist in Cross-Country skiing!
I was travelling as part of my 50th birthday when I visited Tarendo.
Forget Fifty Shades of Grey, what gets us Aurora hunters all steamed up are myriad shades of green.
Green is the predominant colour in the Northern Lights and whilst the science that determines the colours in the Northern Lights isn't quite as racy as E. L. James's erotic romance novel, it's worth looking at what causes the Auroral colours.
When charged particles from the sun collide with the atoms and molecules that constitute the gases in the Earth's atmosphere those atoms are said to be "excited" and as a result, they give off light. The colour of that light is determined by the type of gas involved in the collision.
Are you still with us? Bet you read Fifty Shades of Grey for longer than you did this blog!
Most commonly, the sun's particles hit our atmosphere at altitudes between 75 miles and 120 miles where Oxygen predominates. When the atoms in Oxygen are "excited" they give off green light and hence, the majority of Auroral displays are different shades of swirling, twirling, shimmering, dancing green light.
Late last summer we speculated as to whether the 2014/15 Northern Lights season could match those of the previous two years which had delivered some unforgettable displays.
In June 2014, NASA confirmed that the Sun had reached the peak of its current solar cycle and, rather excitingly, geophysical research suggested that the declining period of a solar cycle often coincides with significant solar events. There's nothing that gets an Aurora hunter more excited than increased solar activity so we thought we would ask a couple of the best in the business to review the season so far. It seems that it has more than lived up to expectations.
Markku Inkila lives near Ivalo in North East Finland and is, without any doubt, one of Scandinavia's most knowledgeable and enthusiastic Northern Lights guides. We asked him to sum up the season using his own words and a couple of images:
This autumn was crazy, 12 nights straight and we saw the Northern Lights every night. During the winter we have seen lights every clear night and that is awesome! There has been lots of talk about solar maximum that was supposed to be last year and the year before, but the thing is that we are in the middle of the "aurora zone" so it doesn't matter what year it is, we see them nearly every day when it's clear sky.
Image: Markku Inkila
It may seem slightly strange but here at The Aurora Zone, we can’t wait for the end of summer.Yes, summer is lovely with warm, sunny days and long hours of daylight but therein lies our problem....daylight, there is simply too much of it.