I dream to see the Northern lights in person? Skyscanner has compiled a guide to help you realize the dream. Select the route, follow the simple tips and be ready to bail at any time to meet the most unearthly sight that can be seen without leaving the planet.
What is the Aurora and how to catch
Encyclopedia dryly explains that the Aurora is the glow of the upper rarefied layers of the atmosphere caused by the interaction of atoms and molecules with charged particles of high energy, invades the earth’s atmosphere from space. Human language is very simplistic and this means that the Sun throws out into space millions of tons of particles after 2-5 days they reach the upper atmosphere of the Earth, where nitrogen and oxygen are so glad to see that already shone with excitement.
Luminescence occurring near the magnetic poles of the Earth. Fortunately, the magnetic poles do not coincide with geographical, so to observe the lights, we can at latitudes of about 67 to 70°, and sometimes much closer to the equator, up to Moscow and Tver.
The poles of the Earth two, therefore, of the Aurora, there are two — North and South. To see the southern lights is problematic — just because habitable places at the right latitudes of the southern hemisphere not so much. But in the Northern hemisphere there are lots of corners where you can see the Aurora.
How to see the Aurora
First the bad news: to catch the Northern lights is difficult — too many circumstances should work out successfully. So be mentally prepared to drive to the North in vain. Good news: if you follow the simple tips, you can greatly increase your chances.
When is the Aurora
The season of the Aurora is the period from autumn through the spring equinox, that is from September to March. This does not mean that the sky is illuminated only during those months, radiance may happen in August. But the probability is still higher in winter, from about November to February. At the same time in high latitudes at this time of night lasts for 18-20 hours, and even a faint glow will be seen more clearly. Professionals say that the best time of day for observations from about 10 PM to 3 am.
The ideal conditions are frosty clear night and high solar activity before, writes Tripmydream. There is no General formula for guaranteed “success” or similar terms, so each country needs to monitor the activity of the Northern lights on special sites with forecasts.
How to increase your chances of seeing the Aurora
1. Watch out for solar flares
The main condition for the Aurora — release of particles on the Sun. After this release you will have from two to five days to reach the desired latitude. Of course, the more powerful the output, the greater the chance that the lights will do. For space weather watches, many observatories around the world, here are some of them:
Institute of terrestrial magnetism, ionosphere and radio wave propagation RAS, Russia
The geophysical Institute of the University of Alaska, USA
The Finnish meteorological Institute
University Of Lancaster, UK
The center forecasts space weather, USA
At each site monitor the K-index of magnetic activity. Its values vary from 1 to 9 where the unit — all is quiet, nine — electronics fails. Noticed that the K-index reached values of 4-5 and above — pack your bags and set off for the North. To follow the predictions of the Aurora conveniently through the application of PSDC USA for iOS and Android.
2. Stay away from cities
Electric lights of cities create light pollution, so with them the night sky less contrast, and the Aurora is visible much worse, or not visible at all. The larger the city, the more light noise and the farther from him you need to move. From a small village stop and 5 to 10 km, from city is not less than 50-70 km.
3. Wait for clear weather
Auroras glow at an altitude of over 100 km the Cloud is always lower, then there will be between you and the lights and close the review. In winter, the more chances of clear skies on frosty days and in the moments of cooling.
4. Climb away to the North
The closer you are to the Arctic circle (or even go further North), the more chances to see the glow. Although, it depends on the size K of the index: if it rolls up to 8-9 points, you can just look out the window, even if you live in Sochi.
Where to go to see the Aurora
In Europe and North America to enjoy the fantastic phenomenon of nature can even warm the rooms of the hotel. In Russia, at first glance, almost boundless opportunities to see the Northern lights: the Arctic circle crosses the country. But in the winter in many places difficult to reach, and the temperature in some places can drop to -45 °C. in addition, flights to remote parts of Russia can be incredibly expensive.
Fairbanks is often referred to as the best place to see the Northern lights in the United States. In Fairbanks say, if you stay there for three nights,then you have 80% chance to see aurora borealis.
Here is the Geophysical Institute University of Alaska, Fairbanks, which provides forecasts concerning terms of viewing the Aurora. Tourists are offered a variety of specialized tours and travel tours to the Arctic circle, unforgettable trips to remote and uninhabited places by train on the Alaska Winter Snow Train.
Yellowknife in the canadian lights can be seen up to 240 days a year. Due to the geographical location, weather conditions and infrastructure of this small town considered the capital of the Northern lights in Canada.
Winters are quite harsh, so tourists are offered all conditions for comfortable “hunting” the lights is a special accommodation, transport and clothing. In Yellowknife are daily watching the light and say that every season there is a 95% chance to observe it for three days in a row. To monitor the weather and activity of the Aurora on the AURORA FORECAST.
Geographical location, weather, beautiful scenery, infrastructure and well-developed winter tourism — the combination of these factors make Northern Norway one of the favorite places of hunters for the Northern lights and photographers of this phenomenon. In continental Norway, the title of the capital with the Northern lights claim to Alta, tromsø and Longyearbyen. In tromsø better developed tourist infrastructure, but the Algiers located at the 70th parallel, and is in itself a good tourist “tick”. Tromso is often called the “gateway to the Arctic” and the home of the Northern lights.
The city is actively developing tourism offers thematic tours, expeditions, exhibitions, camping and cruises under a starry sky. To watch the activity lights can be a special app Norway Lights. Longyearbyen, the “capital” of the Norwegian Svalbard located at 78 degrees North latitude is closer to the North pole you can get only in the Arctic expedition.
All the conditions to observe the light, is also in Sweden, for example, in the small town of Abisko. It is located on the hills in the national Park away from large cities. There, on mount Nuolja, at an altitude of 900 meters above sea level located center of Aurora Sky Station.
There is a cozy cafe, gift shop, observation tower and exhibition of the Northern lights. The center is one of the most comfortable places to see the lights and modestly calls itself “the best place on the planet to observe the Northern lights”. The statement is bold, but rightly so: the center is located at the 68th parallel, in the middle of a national Park, away from the light pollution of large cities, and even at an altitude of almost 1 km above sea level. At the Aurora Sky Station has its own hotel, but it would be cheaper to settle the capital of Swedish Lapland — Kiruna — hour drive from Abisko.
It is impossible to imagine this list without Iceland to see aurora borealis even in the capital. But most of the time “hunting” the lights, the tourists travel to the small town of Stokkseyri, which is just an hour drive from the capital. In Stokkseyri is Icelandic Wonders Center dedicated to Icelandic culture, where you can visit the Museum elves and meet with the famous ghosts.
The cinema center offers a short film about the activity of the Northern lights throughout the year. There you can use the services of a guide who will show you the place, where is the best place to observe this natural phenomenon. Follow the forecast on a special website.
Thanks to the Gulf stream the climate in Iceland is fairly mild in winter in Reykjavik, the temperature rarely drops below zero. Higher chance to see Aurora Borealis in the sky of Iceland — in the North, where less rain falls, for example, in Akureyri, which is considered the driest city in the country. But the most spectacular pictures of the Northern lights out in the glacial lagoon of Jökulsárlón in the South East. Incredible nature is a huge advantage of Iceland to other places for observation of the Aurora. At least because the Icelandic waterfalls and geysers, hot springs and glaciers will be a great comfort if you happen to catch the Northern lights.
Up to 200 times a year in Lapland can be observed Revontulet, or “Fox fire” – as in Finland called Northern lights. In the areas of Rovaniemi, Kilpisjärvi and sodankylä lights happen almost every day. Wonderful to watch the Northern lights in Ivalo. This small village on how thousands of people are very popular among Finnish tourists, and if rooms available in hotels in Ivalo will not appear, you can settle in the neighboring town of saariselkä.
And 40 km South of Ivalo is a unique Arctic resort Kakslauttanen with a needle with transparent roofs instead of the usual houses. This may be the only place on earth where you can fall asleep in a warm bed, looking at the flashes of the Northern lights.
The meteorological Institute of Finland offers to sign up for a special newsletter with the notification of the high probability of an Aurora.
A great selection open to hunters for the Northern lights in Russia, because a considerable part of the country crosses the Arctic circle. However, most of the options are suitable only for experienced travelers, as in some areas the temperature drops to extremely low levels and it is problematic enough to get in the winter. Relatively available for observation of the Northern lights region – Arkhangelsk and Murmansk.
In the Murmansk region note Teriberka, Vidyaevo, Pechenga, or any other town with little light pollution. Most importantly — make sure in the winter it is possible to drive the car.
The Khibiny mountains are located South of Murmansk, but on hills more chances of clear skies and light pollution in these parts you can forget. Infrastructure, unfortunately, is not well developed, and many hotels either closed for the winter, or very difficult to access. Good by local standards recreation “of Kuelporr” promises in the winter transfer from Kirovsk on snowmobiles.
In principle, the Northern lights is seen in the Archangel. But in the context of power radiance breadth he loses much the same Murmansk, Arkhangelsk therefore it is better to make a base for travel, and for the Northern lights to go farther to the North of the region.
In the Komi Republic, the Northern lights are not uncommon, sometimes it can be seen even in Syktyvkar in August. But to increase your chances, better to go further North, to Vorkuta. Be very careful if for the first time sit behind the wheel in winter in the North. In the twilight of winter merges with the vast snow-covered road, and it’s easy to get off the road, stuck in the snow on the roof. Flights to Vorkuta may be cheaper if you own docked two flights in Syktyvkar.
The village Khatanga — a choice for those looking for a Northern lights adventure. This is the heart of the Taimyr Peninsula, the average temperature is -13 °C. But it is one of the northernmost towns of Russia: from the point of view of auroras at the latitude it is much cheaper and Murmansk, and even Iceland. Straight to Khatanga flights from Krasnoyarsk and Norilsk.
Useful things that will be useful in observations
Car — own or hired
Machine really help out in the hunt for the Northern lights, and not so much because you can quickly escape from the zone of light pollution in the city and choose a convenient observation platform. The main advantage of the machine — it is possible to bask.
A full tank of gas and a couple of cans in reserve
To run to bask in the car, it makes sense not to turn off and sink constantly.
A thermos of tea
In the cold, the alcohol warms on short distances but on long — harm. Therefore alcohol is better stored for return to the heat.
Of course, you will not forget to dress warmly. But pay special attention to shoes, because need a long time to stand on snow or frozen ground.
A tripod is absolutely necessary if you want to achieve quality photos.
In the cold batteries, and the batteries run down very quickly. Make sure that you have spare and light, and for a phone and for the camera. Keep them either in the car or in the inner pockets of clothing.
A good camera
To photograph the Northern lights on camera theoretically possible, but difficult and happens only in bright lights. Therefore, if you want to capture the spectacle and take friends for an SLR camera or at least a “mirrorless”. Advance practice to remove on long exposures.