So you’re sat planning your next holiday and you decide you want to take a trip to see the Northern Lights. You head to a travel website and they fill you with hope as they encourage you to come see one of the Seven Wonders of the World! They tell you all about the beauty of the lights and the joy you’ll be filled with when they dance across the sky, but they fail to mention the number of factors which could actually leave you feeling pretty disappointed and almost cheated. Here’s a short list of things they don’t tell you about the Northern Lights.
Tromsø, “The capital of the Arctic” is generally regarded as one of the best places to see the Aurora. It’s sat in the middle of the Northern Lights Oval, which is the area where the skies magnetic fields meet. This alone drastically increases your chances of seeing the “Green Lady dance across the sky”.
Whenever somebody mentions the Northern Lights I think it’s fair to say we all picture the magnificent postcard image filled with greens, purples and reds. However there are a number of issues with these photos. They’re selected and plastered all over the internet and local websites as they’re the best out of thousands. The photographer who took these photos probably sat for countless hours on a freezing coast waiting for this one opportunity. They also probably have 999 mediocre photos sat on their laptops which will never be seen by another living soul. Photographers want to show-off their best work, it’s only natural, and the websites want to use these photos as they want to get you to their country or buy a tour with their company.
The other thing to note with these photographs is the fact they’re usually long exposure shots. The camera collects light over a period of time which results in the lights showing as brighter and more vibrant than the naked eye can see. Often the lights you’re looking at will be faint but your camera will take an impressive photo filled with colour due to this feature.
Before we went on our trip I read a post online of somebody explaining how they were disappointed that lights they saw looked like “the smoke from an aeroplane”. At the start of our night I could completely see what they meant. The first time they appeared they looked like a grey rainbow across the sky. We were lucky as later on in the evening the light reappeared a number of times and became brighter and more green each time. If you can put the postcard images out of your mind and just focus on the fact these lights are created by Mother Nature you’ll be able to appreciate their beauty a whole lot more.
Another important thing to note with the Northern Lights is the fact there is no guarantee they will show. You can of course improve your chances by heading to the places with the clearest skies and moving away from the cities artificial light but it is completely up to Mother Nature and whether she wants to play along on that particular evening.
I would honestly suggest booking a tour rather than chasing alone as a good tour guide will drastically increase your chances. They’ve probably been doing this for years and have gathered all the best tips and advice they possibly could. Our tour guide advised us how he’d been checking a variety of local weather reports for a number of different locations over the past few days to find the most likely spots. At the start of the tour he drummed into us that he will do everything he can to improve our chances, but there was no way from him to promise us results.
The night was long and very cold, but the team were brilliant. They had hot drinks and cookies on tap, they taught everybody how to set up their camera for the best shots and if you decided to take a break from the bitter cold in the bus they would call you off if anything of interest was happening in the sky.
Best Time of Year:
One of the other things our tour guide explained to us was that there are no “best time of year” to see the lights as “the light’s didn’t care what month it was”.
There are so many articles online advising how certain months are the best or most likely, but I couldn’t find any which offered similar results. The likelihood of the lights appearing mainly depends on how clear the sky is. If the sky is filled with clouds it’s more than likely you’re not going to see anything as the lights take place at least 80 km above the Earth’s surface.
Our guide advised that most locals had a “favourite” month to see the lights, but that was all dependant on personal and external factors such as longer days, the weather being less cold etc.
If you are lucky enough to see the lights on your visit it will be one of the best and most beautiful things you will ever see. When they first came out we thought they were cool, but nothing to write home about. However when they reappeared for the final time of our trip they were green, dancing across the sky and breathtaking. A hush seemed to fall over our group as we all took in the beauty of what we were seeing.
Technology has provided us with so much throughout the years, but trip and that moment in particular reminded us just how incredible the natural world around us is.
I would honestly advise anybody to take this trip. Yes there’s no guarantee, and yes you’ll probably be freezing but I promise it will all be worth it if you get to see the beauty of the Northern Lights.