Our Northern Lights Blog
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.
Both NASA and the Goddard Space Centre have announced that the Sun’s polarity has finally flipped. Don’t worry; it sounds dramatic, but this is a natural, recurring phenomenon and totally harmless! The flip in polarity heralds the peak of Solar Cycle 24 and signifies the mid-point in this particular Solar Maximum (the period when the Northern Lights are historically at their most frequent and spectacular).
Basically, what the experts are saying is that half of the Solar Maximum is behind us but the other half, very possibly the better half, still lies ahead.
Two of the NOAA/NASA Solar Cycle Prediction Panel’s leading panellists believe that the current solar cycle will start to decline in 2015, but note that their own research suggests that major solar flares and noteworthy geomagnetic activity normally occur as a solar cycle declines.
The midnight sun in Scandinavia means that the Northern Lights won’t be visible until late August and early September. So when is the best time to go?
I must apologise if the title of this missive sounds like a football coach drilling his players about finding space and remaining focussed but movement and shape are key when it comes to the Northern Lights.
Movement and shape. Credit: Antti Pietikainen
The vast majority of Auroras are green, very often myriad shades of green but multi-coloured displays are rare.
We’re sometimes asked for statistics regarding the frequency of displays of the Aurora Borealis in the destinations we feature and unfortunately, we have to reply that statistics on the subject are pretty meaningless. Basically, across the Auroral oval, the Lights appear around 200 times per year regardless of whether you are in Finland, Sweden, Norway or Iceland.
However, it is impossible to make any long term predictions as to which of the 200 days will yield results and which of the remaining 165 (or 166 during a leap year) will not.
Finland Northern Lights. Image Antti Pietikainen