All about the Aurora Borealis

The Aurora Borealis are a completely naturally occurring phenomenon, and as such, sightings can never be guaranteed. We always advise that you should travel in hope of seeing the Northern Lights, rather than expectation, but the best opportunities for experiencing a dazzling Aurora display will certainly be during the next few winters.

Whilst there are a few factors that dictate whether the Aurora Borealis can be seen or not (weather conditions which cause obstructive cloud cover, the amount of light pollution in area and the level of solar activity), the trips featured on this website are all based in resorts ideally situated for viewing the Northern Lights. Forget the bright glare of purpose-built ski resorts – these locations are far away from any major light pollution from towns, nestled in the heart of Lapland’s winter wilderness.

The amazing phenomenon of the Aurora Borealis has fascinated the Sámi people for centuries and there are more than 20 folk tales that attempt to explain their wondrous existence. In parts of Lapland, the Aurora Borealis are known as the Firefox - legend has it that the tail of a running fox brushing against the powder snow causes the sparks in the sky.

 

What causes the Aurora Borealis?

The Aurora Borealis in the Northern Hemisphere (also known as the Northern Lights) and the Aurora Australis of the Southern Hemisphere (which are known as the Southern Lights) are caused by electrically charged particles from the sun streaming in towards the Earth's surface along its magnetic field, and colliding with particles of gas in the atmosphere. At the point of collision, the excess energy is emitted as light, and the various colours shown in displays of the Northern Lights results from the different types of gas particles in the air.

What colours are the Aurora Borealis?

The most common aurora colour is green, which is formed from oxygen molecules that are found approximately 60 miles from the Earth's surface. When these oxygen molecules are located at a much higher altitude, rare red Northern Lights displays are produced. Other colour possibilities include blue and purple (from nitrogen molecules), pink and yellow.

The shapes created by auroras in the dark range from rounded arcs, patches, clouds, curtains and sharp pointed rays, all of which move rapidly through the night sky above.

Where is the best place to see the Aurora Borealis?

The further north you travel, and the further away from light pollution of towns, the better your chances are of seeing the Aurora Borealis.

A clear, dark night sky provides the perfect backdrop for dazzling displays of the Aurora.

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When is the best time to see the Aurora Borealis?

Whilst the Aurora Borealis are usually associated with winter, displays do occur all year round. However, the longer, darker nights between November to April and the clear nights provide better conditions for sightings, and the optimum time to witness them is between 9pm and 1am.

If you retire too early in the night, chances are you will miss out!

Patience is key when searching for the Aurora - remember that you are at Mother Nature’s mercy. The longer you spend on holiday in a Northern Lights location, the higher your chances of enjoying a display will be.

 

How can I photograph the Aurora Borealis?

So, you’ve tracked down the Northern Lights, and now you want to capture the moment on film. No real past experience is required – all you need is a digital SLR camera, allowing the opportunity to learn what works and what doesn’t as you take your photographs.

A tripod is essential to eliminate shaking of the camera, preferably with a remote control so you don’t need to touch the equipment.

Good exposure times are required to take good pictures of the Aurora, ideally between 5-40 seconds.

Remember that battery life is poor in cold conditions, so bring a spare set or two. Do not use any filters when taking photographs, as this can distort the images. It is also worth experimenting with the noise reduction settings on your camera, to enhance the clarity of colours in the Aurora.

It is worth scouting around your chosen resort in the daytime to find a great spot for photographing the Northern Lights, saving you precious time when they do appear. A nice open space with an interesting skyline of perhaps some trees or a wooden hut works well, ideally with a 360-degree view of the sky (if not, a northerly view).