Image credits: Markku Inkila, Antti Pietakainen
Autumn and the Northern Lights - too often overlooked
The autumnal colours in Northern Scandinavia are an impressive spectacle in their own right. However, the prospect of seeing the Aurora Borealis dancing above them is just one of the reasons we’re passionate about proving to our clients that autumn is a magical time to visit.
Whilst the Northern Lights occur all year round in Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Finland, the phenomenon isn’t visible in the summer months because there is too much daylight, rendering it invisible to the naked eye. Not surprisingly, Aurora addicts in these parts of the world spend the entire summer longing for the darker skies of autumn to return.
The dark skies and photogenic backdrop of autumn is not the only reason we encourage our clients to visit these destinations in autumn, there is also a high chance of seeing the Northern Lights and we’ve got the science to prove it…About Autumn
The Science Behind Autumn’s Magic
Through our many visits to the Arctic Circle, we’ve known for a long time that autumn brings some amazing Northern Lights displays. However, we don’t just want you to take our word for it!
We enlisted the help of two Aurora Experts to explain the science behind the phenomenon. Professor Christopher T. Russell and Professor Emeritus Robert L. McPherron from UCLA’s Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics have researched the science behind the Northern Lights for years and their findings have helped us explain why autumn shows us amazing displays.
They concluded that twice as many geomagnetic storms occur on average during the equinoctial months of March and September in comparison to the rest of the year (Russell, C. and McPherron, R. (1973), ‘Semiannual variation of geomagnetic activity’, Journal of Geophysical Research, 78(1), pp.92-108).
One reason behind this increase around the equinox is due to the tilt of the Earth and its alignment with the Sun directing solar wind towards the Earth’s atmosphere. This creates weaknesses known as ‘Equinox Cracks’. This then leads to more collisions between solar winds and the gases in our atmosphere and thus, causes more frequent Northern Lights displays around the equinox than other times in the year.
The Season Begins: September’s Magnificent Auroras
The Finns call their short autumn “Ruska”, a word which quite beautifully evokes imagery of the burnished reds, browns, yellows and golds transforming the landscape into a spectacular kaleidoscope of colour.
It is said that “Ruska” starts at 9 am on the 9th of September every year and lasts just a few short weeks. During this time, the Finnish forests and fells, the Swedish mountains, Iceland’s coast, and the steep-sided Norwegian fjords are all embellished by the colours of autumn, making them wonderful destinations to explore.
If you don’t fancy the sub-zero temperatures associated with Northern Scandinavia in the middle of winter then September is the best time to go Northern Lights hunting. The temperatures will be starting to fall but remain comfortable, especially at night when you will be out and about hunting Lady Aurora.
What’s more, you may see the Aurora twice as it reflects in the waters of the lakes and rivers – something that wouldn’t happen once winter’s big freeze comes along.
The autumn equinox in late September is known to produce more geomagnetic storms than other times of the year, leading to some amazing Northern Lights displays. The usually favourable weather also means there is less cloud cover to obstruct your view of the night sky too.
Though snow activities are ruled out in the autumn, there are plenty of other options to fill the daylight hours. Walking and trekking, reindeer encounters, hiking with huskies, cultural visits, boat trips, museums and more depending on your chosen location.
Northern Lights displays in October
October shares many of the same advantages as September; warmer weather, clearer skies and fewer visitors. What’s more, October still remains off a lot of people’s radars as a time to visit our northern locations, so you’ll get to enjoy your holiday without the big crowds.
Most of the leaves will have fallen and the landscape becomes a dramatic surrounding that may start to be covered with a light covering of frost. We have seen early snowfall at this time but there may not be enough for any snow-based activities.
Without the snow on the ground, you’ll also be able to enjoy warmer temperatures, between 0.8°C to 10°C. Though this won’t necessarily keep you toasty, it’s a lot warmer than the icy temperatures in winter!
The lakes and rivers may still be unfrozen in October so you can make the most of this on a boat trip, either in search of the Northern Lights or to simply enjoy the wonderful autumn landscapes. The waters also provide even better views if you see the Northern Lights reflected in their shimmering surface. We know this backdrop provides stunning photographs which is why we have dedicated photography workshops at Menesjärvi and Saariselkä to help you learn how to make the most of this season.
Where can you experience autumn at its best?
As the UK’s dedicated Northern Lights holiday company, we’re passionate about providing our clients with the best chance of seeing the lights for themselves and as autumn continues to deliver amazing displays, we’ve designed a range of holidays to showcase the best that this time of year has to offer.
In Finland, the boutique Wilderness Hotel Inari offers the perfect introduction to this magical time of year. Not only are you able to explore the beautiful scenery around Lake Inari and experience a cultural visit to the Siida Museum, guests are also able to upgrade their accommodation to spend a night beneath the stars in an Aurora Cabin.
Alternatively, if you’re keen to experience a stay in an Aurora Igloo, head to Saariselka, located 250km above the Arctic Circle and spend the entirety of your stay in innovative, glass-roofed Aurora Cabins. Tailor your time in this autumnal paradise as you wish; hunt the Northern Lights by Lake Rahajarvi, experience gold panning at Tankavaara, hike Urho Kekkonen National Park and so much more.
Inspired by autumn? Click to find our other autumn Northern Lights itineraries.