Chasing the Magic: Why the Northern Lights are Putting on a Show Across Europe’s Skies
Chasing the Magic: Why the Northern Lights are Putting on a Show Across Europe's Skies - The Science Behind the Spectacular Light Show
These celestial shows are the result of disturbances from solar winds interacting with particles in our atmosphere. When charged particles from the sun are blown towards Earth, they follow the planet’s magnetic field lines and collide with gases like oxygen and nitrogen in the upper atmosphere. This collision excites the gases, causing them to glow.
The lights we see depend on which gas particles are hit. Oxygen gives off green and red light. Nitrogen glows blue and purple. The colors can even shift from the bottom to top of the aurora. At higher altitudes, the auroras shine red because oxygen dominates. Lower areas appear green and blue as nitrogen takes over.
Auroras form in the ionosphere about 60 to 600 miles above Earth’s surface. They’re visible in oval-shaped zones centered around the north and south magnetic poles. When solar activity increases, the ovals expand and the lights can be seen at lower latitudes.
The effect is similar to flourescent lightbulbs. Electricity excites mercury vapor, producing ultraviolet light that reacts with the bulb’s phosphor coating to glow. The Northern Lights work the same way. The electrified gases get activated and release photons as they relax back to lower energy states.
The strength of geomagnetic storms dictates the intensity of the lights. Minor solar flare-ups produce faint, wispy bands. Major events lead to brighter, more widespread auroral shows that dance rapidly across the whole sky.
The auroras have awed people for ages. But modern science has only recently revealed their mechanics. In 1741, astronomer Olof Hiorter noticed auroras' alignment with Earth’s magnetic field. Kristian Birkeland's terrella experiments in the 1900s first simulated the lights in a lab using magnetized spheres. Satellites launched in the 1950s finally measured solar particles hitting our atmosphere to produce the Northern Lights.
What else is in this post?
- Chasing the Magic: Why the Northern Lights are Putting on a Show Across Europe's Skies - The Science Behind the Spectacular Light Show
- Chasing the Magic: Why the Northern Lights are Putting on a Show Across Europe's Skies - Best Times and Places to Catch the Auroras
- Chasing the Magic: Why the Northern Lights are Putting on a Show Across Europe's Skies - Packing List for Aurora Chasers
- Chasing the Magic: Why the Northern Lights are Putting on a Show Across Europe's Skies - Chasing the Lights by Land and Sea
- Chasing the Magic: Why the Northern Lights are Putting on a Show Across Europe's Skies - Seeking Out the Magic from Iceland to Norway
- Chasing the Magic: Why the Northern Lights are Putting on a Show Across Europe's Skies - Aurora Hunting from Cozy Accommodations
- Chasing the Magic: Why the Northern Lights are Putting on a Show Across Europe's Skies - Night Sky Photography Tips and Tricks
- Chasing the Magic: Why the Northern Lights are Putting on a Show Across Europe's Skies - The Northern Lights Bucket List
Chasing the Magic: Why the Northern Lights are Putting on a Show Across Europe's Skies - Best Times and Places to Catch the Auroras
Timing and location are everything when it comes to catching the best auroral displays. The lights occur year-round but are only visible on clear, dark nights in high latitude regions centered around the earth's magnetic poles. Planning an aurora-viewing adventure during peak solar activity and in prime viewing territory will give you the best chance to witness nature's ethereal lightshow.
Late fall through early spring offers prime aurora viewing opportunities across northern Europe. Long nights provide extended viewing periods and solar activity spikes during the equinox seasons. Iceland, northern Norway, Finland, and Sweden sit directly under the auroral oval, making them front-row seats for the glowing spectacle.
Abisko National Park in arctic Sweden enjoys claim as one of the world's best spots to see the northern lights. Situated far from light pollution and often under clear skies, Abisko provides remarkable visibility. Photographers flock here to capture the dancing green ribbons shimmering above the Torneträsk lake against a backdrop of snowy wilderness.
Neighboring Norway also offers excellent aurora viewing and accessibility. Tromsø, known as the gateway to the Arctic, provides a lively base from which to chase the lights. Take a reindeer sleigh or husky dogsled ride into the countryside then watch in wonder as the shifting colors glow overhead.
Iceland's Remote Highlands beckon adventurers with surreal volcanic landscapes bathed in an ethereal green glow. Far from the city lights, hotels like Hotel Ranga and Fosshotel Glacier Lagoon offer cozy glass igloos and personalized aurora wake-up calls when activity is high.
For guaranteed views, book an overnight northern lights cruise. Expedition ships equipped with deck-mounted telescopes sail to pristine spots offshore throughout the fall and winter. Warm up with a mug of hot cocoa as you watch the dancing display from sea before retiring to your cabin beneath the magical glowing sky.
Chasing the Magic: Why the Northern Lights are Putting on a Show Across Europe's Skies - Packing List for Aurora Chasers
When venturing into the cold dark nights of the north to chase the magical glow of the Northern Lights, proper preparation is key. An Aurora hunter needs to be equipped to spend hours outdoors in freezing temperatures without missing a moment of the dazzling display. Packing the right cold weather gear will make viewing the lights a comfortable, memorable experience rather than one spent shivering in misery.
The number one item on any Aurora chaser’s packing list should be a good winter coat rated to well below zero. Look for one with a synthetic or down fill that cuts the wind. Combine your parka with multiple insulating layers to trap body heat, including base layers of long underwear, fleece, and a hat and gloves. Hand and foot warmers are a nice extra. Waterproof snow pants or bibs will keep you dry during activities like dog sledding.
Proper footwear is also essential to prevent cold feet. Pack insulated, waterproof winter boots with good traction like Sorels or heavy duty hiking boots for walking on snow and ice. Bring several pairs of thick wool socks that wick moisture. For standing around viewing spots, slip-on cleats give your boots extra grip.
When chasing the Northern Lights, seeing clearly in the dark is a must. A headlamp allows you to walk safely without missing sky activity. Red lens filters can be attached to preserve night vision while setting up cameras. Bring extra batteries and stash hand warmers in your camera bag to prevent them dying in the cold. Tripods let you take long exposure photos of the dancing lights.
To capture the magic of the auroras, a DSLR camera equipped with manual settings allows you to adjust ISO, aperture, and shutter speed to let in enough light for a clear shot in the dark. Expert photographers suggest a wide angle, fixed length lens between 14-24mm. Bring extra memory cards to snap lots of images.
While warm drinks aren’t a packing essential, a good thermos full of something hot is key for aurora viewing comfort. Soup, coffee, or cocoa will warm you up as you patiently watch the skies. Hand warmers tucked into mittens allow you to handle your camera without freezing fingers.
Chasing the Magic: Why the Northern Lights are Putting on a Show Across Europe's Skies - Chasing the Lights by Land and Sea
Whether viewing from shore or at sea, chasing the Northern Lights opens up thrilling possibilities for encountering nature's dazzling light show. As the glowing green bands intensify and shimmer overhead, you'll gain an entirely new perspective observing this celestial phenomenon in motion.
Embarking on an evening snowmobile tour whisks you away from the city lights into Finland's remote forests and fells. Wrap up in provided thermal gear as your guide leads you down narrow trails. Stop at a prime viewing spot and kill the engines, immersed in wooded stillness. Gaze upward as waves of emerald light dance through the trees, casting an otherworldly glow over the snowy landscape. Feel the chill fade away as you become lost in the living laser show streaking the heavens in a natural spectacle beyond your imagination.
Or bundle up for a dogsledding adventure across Norway's pristine tundra as your husky team escorts you towards ringside seats for an auroral wonder. Hear the dogs' excited howls mingling with whoops of awe from fellow passengers as brilliant technicolor currents shimmer into focus overhead. Witness the incredible transition as a faint glow intensifies into undulating bands of green, violet, and crimson that eclipse the entire sky.
Leaving shore behind, Northern Lights cruises allow you to float directly below the dazzling auroral shows. Relax in a cozy chair on the top deck with warm cider in hand as the ship sails into dark coastal waters. Watch in anticipation through the cloudless night, your view unobstructed by city lights and pollution. Suddenly a vibrant green ribbon materializes, soon evolving into flowing crimson waves dancing overhead. Move out on deck to crane your neck upwards and fully absorb the magical 360 degree spectacle surrounding you from above.
Chasing the Magic: Why the Northern Lights are Putting on a Show Across Europe's Skies - Seeking Out the Magic from Iceland to Norway
From Iceland’s icy fjords to Norway’s artic tundra, the land of the Northern Lights beckons aurora chasers with its raw, mystical beauty. As the sun dips below the horizon, adventurers rugged up against the cold wait in anticipation for the show to begin. First a wispy green ribbon materializes, gaining intensity as it dances and undulates across the night sky. Soon the entire firmament is awash with shifting curtains of emerald, sapphire and magenta that eclipse the stars. Witnessing this cosmic ballet of light is an experience that touches the soul and creates memories for a lifetime.
Nowhere are the Northern Lights more dazzling than Iceland. Þórsmörk, a nature reserve nestled between glaciers in the Icelandic Highlands, offers an unbeatable front row seat to the celestial show. The lack of light pollution coupled with Iceland’s proximity to the Arctic Circle means it enjoys long winter nights with frequent, vivid displays. Rug up in your warmest layers and head out after dark. As bands of jade and violet light materialize and begin their mystical dance, the urge to whoop with delight is irresistible.
Neighboring Norway also provides incredible opportunities for seeing the auroras, particularly in the northern city of Tromsø. Nicknamed the ‘Paris of the North’, Tromsø offers a lively base from which to chase the lights. Take a 20 minute drive from town or hop a short ferry ride to reach ideal viewing spots like Kvaløya or Sommarøy islands. Watch from shore as the glowing ribbons shimmer and twist above the frigid waters of the Arctic Ocean. For guaranteed views, book an overnight northern lights cruise where you can observe the entire sky come alive with color from the top deck.
Chasing the Magic: Why the Northern Lights are Putting on a Show Across Europe's Skies - Aurora Hunting from Cozy Accommodations
After a day of adventure in the snow, there’s nothing better than retreating to a cozy basecamp to continue the hunt for the elusive Northern Lights. Thankfully, Scandinavia offers no shortage of delightful places to stay that make seeing the auroras an utterly memorable experience. Forget camping out in the cold to catch a glimpse of the lights – today’s travelers can watch this celestial display in comfort.
Making the most of Finland’s front row seat to the show are unique accommodations like the Northern Lights Ranch. Guests bunk down in thoughtfully furnished timber cabins, complete with roaring fires and private auroral wake-up calls. But the real magic happens outside, where you can soak in wood-fired hot tubs while watching the shifting green lights dance overhead before retiring to the comfort of your bed.
Over in Sweden, Treehotel’s mirrored cube room perched high in the Lule River Valley provides a window to the sky ideal for Northern Lights viewing. The Aurora Sky Station in Abisko National Park takes glamping to a new level, with a cozy, modern yurt featuring a transparent ceiling and heated floors. You’ll sleep like a baby as the glowing lights swirl silently above.
Snow Village in Finnish Lapland constructs an ephemeral hotel of ice and snow each winter. Visitors bundle up in arctic sleeping bags to bed down in magical sculpted ice suites bathed in dancing green light streaming through walls and ceilings. Take in a frozen sea arch auroral display before retiring to your fanciful frozen room.
Norway’s Glass Residence cocoons guests in geometric pods with transparent ceilings carefully constructed to minimize light pollution. You’ll feel at one with nature dozing beneath the vibrant curtains of green, pink and purple swirling overhead. Nearby Panorama GlassLodge’s prime aurora-viewing ridge location showcases Norway’s beauty through expansive panoramic windows.
For the ultimate viewing experience, book an overnight cruise bound for dark offshore waters brimming with Northern Lights potential. Enjoy dinner and drinks on deck as curious green tendrils appear, intensifying into shifting veils of color undulating across the entire sky. Retire to your cosy stateroom, gently rocked to sleep under a celestial array of dancing lights.
Chasing the Magic: Why the Northern Lights are Putting on a Show Across Europe's Skies - Night Sky Photography Tips and Tricks
Capturing the ethereal beauty of the Northern Lights demands special photography skills and equipment. While modern DSLR cameras provide more light sensitivity, photographing the auroras is an art that takes practice through trial and error. Arm yourself with these key tips and techniques for getting frame-worthy shots of the mystical light show.
First and foremost, use a sturdy tripod and a remote shutter release or timer to eliminate blur from camera movement during long exposures. Wind can also induce vibration, so weigh down your tripod for maximum stability. Compose your shots beforehand and use the camera’s Live View function to minimize fumbling in the dark.
When photographing the auroras, manual mode is a must to adjust aperture, ISO and shutter speed. Start by lowering your ISO to 400 or 800 to minimize noise. Next, set your aperture to around f/2.8 or wider to let in light. Choose the fastest shutter speed that renders visible light – usually 5 to 20 seconds for moderate activity. The ideal camera mode for auroras is full manual, but you can also experiment on Shutter Priority with a fixed aperture.
To focus in the dark, try using auto focus to start by pointing at an object like a car or building. Then switch to manual focus before recording your images. Alternatively, prefocus on infinity before the show begins if the foreground is dark. Review your results and adjust your settings accordingly.
Don’t forget to white balance. The automatic setting can cause unnatural blue or orange tinting from artificial lights. For true color, use a preset like Daylight, Cloudy or Shade. Bracket by taking multiple exposures at each setting to get a range.
A wide, fast 14-24mm f/2.8 lens captures the motion and scale of the dancing lights across the whole sky. Stop down to f/2.2-f/2.5 if images appear too soft. Bring extra batteries as the cold drains them fast. Use a headlamp with red light to review shots without ruining night vision.
Look for interesting foreground elements like trees, lakes or architecture to anchor the composition. Positioning subjects in the foreground adds scale and depth. Shoot from multiple vantage points and rotate frequently to follow the shifting lights.
Chasing the Magic: Why the Northern Lights are Putting on a Show Across Europe's Skies - The Northern Lights Bucket List
Chasing the aurora borealis is a coveted aspirational experience for travelers from across the globe. Witnessing the dazzling cosmic lightshow in person feels like a sacred, primal encounter with the very forces of nature. Your jaw drops as the glowing green ribbons begin their mystical dance, twisting and rippling across the vast night sky. A profound sense of wonder washes over you, as though Mother Nature is putting on a show just for you. Suddenly your entire perspective shifts as the immensity of the universe becomes real.
Seeing the northern lights ranks at the top of so many bucket lists for good reason. The phenomenon simply has to be experienced first-hand to comprehend its humbling beauty and magic. While photos try to capture the experience, they can never do justice to the real thing. Standing beneath the undulating technicolor curtains as they eclipse the entire firmament connects you to the cosmos in an indescribable way.
For many aurora chasers, glimpsing the lights becomes a lifelong quest. Veteran storm trackers plan annual pilgrimages to Scandinavia, Alaska, and other prime viewing destinations to maximize their chances of clear skies and solar activity. Diehard enthusiasts have seen hundreds of shows, yet they never tire of the thrill. Each unique dance offers an utterly new experience.
First-time northern lights voyagers describe being moved to tears by the splendor unfolding above them. Others are left speechless, scarcely believing their eyes. The luckiest observers catch a glimpse of the elusive flickering pillars of light - the most dazzling formation. Auroras seem to conjure a primal response within the psyche, tapping into deep existential questions and our connection to the universe.
Seeing the lights shifts perspective, reigniting childlike wonder and curiosity about the world. For many, it's a transformative, even spiritual experience. They emerge with restored faith in the miraculous beauty of nature and our tiny place within its grand scheme. It becomes easy to understand why ancient peoples explained the celestial magic through mythology and saw the lights as harbingers of change.