Always moving, never the same, never still. At times the lights were playful, like children playing hide and seek. Other times, they were slow and graceful, almost elegant as they caressed the velvet sky. Sometimes fidgety, flickering from bright to dull like a light globe with a loose wire, alternating with a night club type electronic pulse as the lights exploded their energy above.
What are the Northern Lights?
The bright dancing lights of the aurora are actually collisions between electrically charged particles from the sun that enter the earth’s atmosphere. The lights are seen above the magnetic poles of the northern and southern hemispheres.
My Northern Lights Experience
Quietly enjoying Christmas Dinner in Rovaniemi, Lapland, a wide eyed Chinese man raced into the dining room yelling uncontrollably in what sounded like gibberish and flapping his arms in frenzy. The Northern Lights had begun their performance.
Dashing to the rooftop terrace with our necks cranked to the sky, we witnessed what was one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen. Swirls of illuminated green twisted and turned across the night sky. Slowly but surely, fading in colour to a pastel greens before suddenly remerging into vividly electric emeralds.
There were several clusters across the sky before us. A wide slow moving banner and narrow but long, fast moving tower of light. At times, the lights were barely visible, but they would return within seconds to dance before you in vibrant colours.
Cameras clicked, tripods were snapped into place as we attempted to capture this unique beauty. Others simply stood there, eyes averted to the sky, taking it all in. It was breathtaking. Twirling, swirling, flitting, dancing, jumping, leaping, pulsing, spiralling.
How long do the Northern Lights perform for?
The duration of the northern lights exposure is never the same. My experience in witnessing them was that they performed on and off over several hours. Sometimes they would be dancing and jumping through the sky for only 30 seconds before they would disappear, other times, they would perform for half an hour at a time. The weather conditions have a very strong influence on what you will see.
Does it really look like what you see in photos?
No. Photos really enhance what you see in the night sky, as the shutter is held open on a camera taking in more light/colour and capturing it. Of course it is the same as what you are seeing, but what you see with your naked eye over a 30 second period compared to that same 30 second period being captured into one single camera shot will appear differently. The camera will show a much more vivid picture with the lights of a 30 second duration displayed in a single file whereas the human eye is experiencing this in real time.
How can I be guaranteed to witness this phenomenon?
There is no way to guarantee that you will see the Northern Lights. Weather conditions are everything. The sky must be clear with no cloud cover. There must be no light pollution for the best chance of witnessing the lights and it needs to be dark. The lights tend to appear later in the evenings when temperatures drop and cloud cover lifts.
Where is the best place to go?
Anywhere north of the Arctic Circle whether it be Scandinavia, the Yukon etc. The further north you go, the higher your chances of witnessing the lights.
When is the best time to go?
The lights start to appear anytime from late September, early October through to around March. Although the most well renowned time to witness them is in the heart of winter, quite often cloud cover is an issue at this time. During September and October, while the nightly performances are of a rarer occurrence, these times are said to be the prime time to witness pinks and reds in the sky alongside the green lights.
What is the best time of night to see them?
The Northern Lights have been known to appear from as early at 5pm in the evening and can sometimes still be seen dancing at 6am. More commonly anytime from 10pm through to 3am is when they are said to be most active.
What colours can I see?
The human eye recognises green most prominently. This is the most common colour for you to witness. It is possible to also witness pinks, yellows and very rarely blues and purples. Blue is more difficult for the human eye to register and is quite often picked up by cameras without the viewer actually having physically seen this colour themselves.
Where would you love to see the Northern Lights from? Tell us below!
Looking for more Natural Phenomena? Download the Crooked Compass Travel App for further inspiration.
This category of tours involves light trekking, walking, cycling, rafting or kayaking for a few hours each day with a small amount of inclines and declines. You will require a reasonable level of fitness and good health to participate. It is important to note that due to the nature of some of our trips, they may take place in remote areas (with basic facilities) and can involve long travelling days on various modes of transport.
Suggested preparation : At least 3 months prior to departure, it is recommended that you undertake aerobic exercise (this may include jogging, cycling or fast walking) for 30 minutes, three times a week. It is also advised to walk on variable terrain and in variable weather conditions. For a cycling adventure, road cycling twice a week is recommended and for adventures which involve paddling and kayaking, it is important to gain confidence and rhythm rather than speed prior to departure.
This category of tours involve trekking, kayaking and cycling for period of 6 to 8 hours a day at a fairly consistent pace. Ideal for people looking to slightly increase the heart rate. For our moderately rated tours, you must have a good level of fitness and also be in good health. It is also important to be prepared for variable weather conditions. Altitude may also come into play. This category of tours may involve visiting remote areas where facilities can be quite basic. Accommodation may also involve camping, homestays or basic accommodation where facilities may not be considered of western standards. To enjoy this style of travel, it is suggested for travellers to have a reasonable level of fitness and health, a positive attitude, as well as a fairly active lifestyle. An open mind is also required.
Suggested preparation: At least 3 months prior to departure, it is recommended that you undertake 45mins – 1 hour of aerobic exercise, three to four times a week. Some potential exercises that could be beneficial include hill walking with a backpack on over variable terrain and weather conditions, as well as running and cycling dependent on the activity you plan on undertaking.
This category of tours involves trekking, kayaking, cycling or other adventure activities in remote areas for up to 8 to 10 hours a day. It is important to note that with the remoteness of some regions comes a variety of other challenges such as variable weather conditions, accommodation as well as facilities. You must have an excellent level of fitness and good health to be able to partake in this category of tour. You must have confidence in your own ability and be in good physical condition. Includes extended periods of endurance.
Suggested preparation: At least 3 to 4 months of strenuous exercise, four times a week. When preparing for treks it would be beneficial to participate in hill walks with a weighted day pack (approximately 5-8 kg) once a week for aerobic fitness and strengthening of leg muscles. It is also important to do this on variable terrain to prepare for challenging adventures. When preparing for cycling adventures, regular bike riding (at least 4 to 5 times a week for 1-4 hours is essential). It is also important to cycle on uneven surfaces or even participate in other aerobic exercises such as running or swimming to build up strength and stamina. Altitude may also be a factor in these tours.
This category of tour often involves extreme trekking, cycling or other extreme adventure activities. It is important to expect remote and poorly defined tracks and to be prepared for variable weather conditions for 10 to 12 hours per day (may sometimes be more depending on weather and altitude). These adventures are suitable for travellers who have prior experience in strenuous travel and activities, are extremely fit and have excellent health. It is also important to note that some of the terrain on these adventures will involve trekking in snow, at high attitude levels and may require technical equipment.
Suggested preparation: It is important to note that physical fitness should be an ongoing activity, commencing around 5-6 months prior to departure, or even before if you have no prior fitness. Exercise should focus on building maximum endurance and stamina. Four to five hard sessions of 40-60 mins per week should be completed and can include exercises such as going to the gym, running, swimming or cycling to focus on building aerobic stamina. It could also be beneficial to prepare by hiking on rough terrain, in extreme weather conditions or partake in altitude training.