The Northern Lights

 

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The Aurora Borealis

 

So why did we go all the way up to the Arctic Circle at such an inhospitable time of year? Principally, to see this.

It was a last minute decision, booked only a week before boarding the flight. It’s not the most reliable time to see the lights, November can be cloudy. As it turned out, we were lucky. Very lucky. Fabulous scenery by day and, twice, one of the world’s must stunning spectacles by night.

 
 

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Aurora Borealis-2What is the Aurora Borealis?

It’s caused by electrically charged particles released from the surface of the sun during solar flares (coronal mass ejections or CMEs) which then travel across space on the ‘solar wind’, taking 2-3 days to reach the Earth. On entering the earth’s atmosphere they then react with gases such as oxygen and nitrogen, producing the waves of colour we see in the aurora. To some extent the arrival of these particles can be forecast in the short term. Reports are available online and you can be sure that I was checking them several times a day, along with the normal weather forecasts of course. The aurora occurs in the upper levels of the atmosphere so cloud cover blocks it from view entirely.

The Northern Lights can be seen in an arc, or oval, around the North Pole and generally speaking the further north you are, the better your chances of witnessing the display, even when the volume of particles generated by the flare is relatively low.

By going so far north we stood a chance of seeing the aurora at Kp level 1, on a scale of 0-9. It would take a much greater level of geomagnetic activity, between 5 and 6, to see the lights in Scotland for example. And being right under the auroral oval also meant that the Northern Lights were directly over our heads, not just on the horizon. There are Southern Lights too, but in the southern hemisphere most of the arc is over Antarctica or the sea. Therefore, unless you are a penguin, the north is the best bet!

 
 

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The waves of light build in intensity, move slowly across the sky and then fade over time

 
 

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It’s fascinating to watch

Actually, it’s awesome.

 
 

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The first night we joined a group going up to a nearby headland for a great view of the lights over the mountains. The hotel staff lit a fire and supplied spiced tea.. a clear night means that it is going to be cold. It’s taken me a while to work out what the orange light in the photos is but I think it must be the glow from Tromsø. The town is almost three hours distant by road, given the circuitous route around the fjords, but considerably less as the arctic crow flies.

 
 

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Photography is challenging. It needs a long shutter speed, 10-20 seconds and a high ISO.

All of the shots in this post by Mike.

 
 

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The aurora is more intense in photographs than we see with the naked eye, because of the long exposure. I hadn’t registered the glow from Tromsø at the time, not until we looked more closely at the images later. But it does add to the atmosphere don’t you think?

 
 

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A spark from the fire shoots off into the air

 
 

Below, a sequence which shows the development of the aurora.

If we’d had another clear night I’d have liked to have tried a time lapse..

 
 

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The best time to view the Northern Lights is said to be around the Spring or Autumn equinox in March/October and in a year when sunspot action is high. Solar activity roughly follows an 11 year cycle, with the most recent solar maximum occurring in 2014. It’ll still be good for the next year or so, but we are now on the down curve. Choose a place which is free of light pollution and avoid a full moon. With luck, you’ll get a clear sky. But even when the conditions are theoretically perfect, it’s still not guaranteed.

 
 

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Worth the gamble though, I reckon..?

 
 

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Linking to Elena (here) at BlogShareLearn, weekend Linky Party

 
 
 
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2017-02-16T19:41:55+00:00 December 10th, 2015|Tags: |96 Comments

96 Comments

  1. Brian Skeys December 10, 2015 at 11:48 am - Reply

    One of the sights of the world to see, thanks for sharing Jessica.

    • Jessica December 10, 2015 at 7:22 pm - Reply

      Indeed it is Brian.

  2. Backlane Notebook December 10, 2015 at 11:50 am - Reply

    Gosh those images had me weeping and I was about to say awesome but that doesn’t really do justice to the phenomenal Northern Lights spectacle. Your photos are particularly poignant when contrasted to our man-made changing climate and the subsequent devastation of much of planet earth.

    • Jessica December 10, 2015 at 7:29 pm - Reply

      Yes indeed. It must be an area vulnerable to sea level rise as much of the population in that part of Norway lives on the fringes of the sea fjords. Fishing is the mainstay of the economy. And where would the land based wildlife population go? Migrating north isn’t an option!

  3. Marian St.Clair December 10, 2015 at 11:58 am - Reply

    Wow! That’s worth the effort and the cold, for sure.

    • Jessica December 10, 2015 at 7:29 pm - Reply

      Absolutely Marian!

  4. Rosie December 10, 2015 at 12:01 pm - Reply

    Wow, such an amazing sight – the photos are stunning. thanks for sharing them with us:)

    • Jessica December 10, 2015 at 7:31 pm - Reply

      Thanks Rosie. It’s quite an experience.

  5. Jo December 10, 2015 at 12:27 pm - Reply

    I think a trip to see the northern lights is on many people’s bucket list. I was going to ask who took the photos in your posts, they’re absolutely stunning. As you’ve mentioned Mike taking these, I guess the others have been taken by you both?

    • Jessica December 10, 2015 at 8:12 pm - Reply

      It’s kind of a joint effort. For plants especially I try to decide what I want to achieve (which is their best side!) and tend to think more about composition, then rely on Mike to fiddle with all the knobs and whistles on the camera to get the best shot. He is by far the more technically accomplished. But I’ve still got some good results with point and shoot and sometimes he sees the angle that I don’t.

  6. cherylwest2015 December 10, 2015 at 1:07 pm - Reply

    Stunning photos. It was certainly worth the trip in the cold to see such spectacular light. My daughter is going to Iceland next Wednesday in hopes of seeing the Aurora. I hope she is as fortunate as you were.

    • Jessica December 10, 2015 at 8:16 pm - Reply

      Oooh, it’ll be really snowy by then I’m sure. Iceland is next on the list. It’s got such an interesting landscape with all the volcanic stuff too. I do hope she sees the aurora, it is quite a sight.

  7. Vera December 10, 2015 at 1:26 pm - Reply

    Now that would have me absolutely spell bound, even if I was chilled to the bone!

    • Jessica December 10, 2015 at 8:17 pm - Reply

      It is so absorbing you even forget the cold!

  8. Pauline December 10, 2015 at 1:55 pm - Reply

    Absolutely fantastic Jessica, and well done to Mike for capturing such wonderful shots, certainly a trip of a lifetime! Thank you so much for sharing them with us.

    • Jessica December 10, 2015 at 8:22 pm - Reply

      I wish we’d had more clear nights, but that would have been greedy. It’s so frustrating though, to know that the aurora is there behind the clouds and we just couldn’t see it.

  9. wherefivevalleysmeet December 10, 2015 at 2:04 pm - Reply

    Fabulous – wonderful that the Northern Lights danced and displayed for you – I don’t think that my little camera would be able to capture them very well.

    • Jessica December 10, 2015 at 8:25 pm - Reply

      There were people getting pictures on their phones. There are apps that change the settings on the phone’s camera to capture the aurora, or take two pictures and consolidate them.

  10. justjilluk December 10, 2015 at 2:24 pm - Reply

    We have had some good displays in north east scotland. Not just green but red too. Again its better viewed through a camera. You havde had an amazing holiday. Thanks for sharing.

    • Jessica December 10, 2015 at 8:29 pm - Reply

      It’s been a really good year apparently with some strong flares. The red I’d love to see. You’re far better placed than I am.

  11. Sam December 10, 2015 at 2:33 pm - Reply

    AWESOME – you lucky pair!

    • Jessica December 10, 2015 at 8:30 pm - Reply

      Thanks Sam. Very lucky.. we could have gone all that way and seen nothing. Apparently we had only a 40% chance.

  12. FlowerAlley December 10, 2015 at 2:48 pm - Reply

    Spectacular post. Thank you for sharing your adventure.

    • Jessica December 10, 2015 at 8:32 pm - Reply

      Thanks. I was fascinated by the science of it too.

  13. CJ December 10, 2015 at 2:53 pm - Reply

    I’m blown away, it’s absolutely stunning. How lucky that you had some clear skies, and what an amazing memory. Beautifully photographed. CJ xx

    • Jessica December 10, 2015 at 8:35 pm - Reply

      Thanks CJ. It’s a far more beautiful place than I’d imagined, but I’d have been very disappointed if we hadn’t seen the lights.

  14. Peter/Outlaw December 10, 2015 at 3:38 pm - Reply

    Aren’t they wonderful? Mike got some great shots and the location with the mountains in the background is perfect! I grew up seeing the northern lights and it’s one of the things I miss about living in the north. Thank you for the beautiful images and warm memories!

    • Jessica December 10, 2015 at 8:37 pm - Reply

      I guess you get quite complacent if they are there all the time. But the lights, the snow, the peacefulness of the place… absolutely wonderful.

  15. Alison December 10, 2015 at 4:51 pm - Reply

    Oh My! Kudos to Mike on his excellent photography! I’ve always wanted to see this phenomenon. Maybe some day. They sometimes claim that we can see them down here in the Seattle area, but I’ve never managed to catch them. Thanks for sharing the photos.

    • Jessica December 10, 2015 at 8:42 pm - Reply

      They are fainter than they appear in the photos and it needs somewhere totally dark to see them. After a while your eyes become accustomed and then it is a lot easier.

  16. AnnetteM December 10, 2015 at 4:53 pm - Reply

    Amazing shots – something I would love to see properly. So far I have only seen a very monochrome version in Aberdeen. With such a slow shutter speed does that mean the images are more blurred that you see with your eye? So glad you managed to get two good days.

    • Jessica December 10, 2015 at 8:49 pm - Reply

      The images are slightly more blurred, but brighter. The problem is that in the 10 seconds or so the lights move by a fraction. We do need more practice with the different settings, just have to go back I suppose. 🙂

  17. Bumbleandme@wordpress.com December 10, 2015 at 5:04 pm - Reply

    Stunning! These are so on my to do list! Amazing shots Mike, well done! You must be feeling very privileged to have witnessed such a spectical. X

    • Jessica December 10, 2015 at 8:50 pm - Reply

      Indeed, we could have gone all that way and seen nothing. Thanks Hannah.

  18. Sue Garrett December 10, 2015 at 5:24 pm - Reply

    Magical

    • Jessica December 10, 2015 at 8:51 pm - Reply

      In that landscape, most definitely.

  19. Jacqueline December 10, 2015 at 5:26 pm - Reply

    Oh my goodness ….. FANTASTIC Jessica. Something that I’ve always wanted to see and weren’t you lucky, lucky, lucky ?!! I have friend’s who have been and not seen a thing !! ….. and, your photographs are magical. XXXX

    • Jessica December 10, 2015 at 8:53 pm - Reply

      It was definitely a risk, apparently March is the best time to go. It’s snowy, there’s more to do during the day, the days are longer but the nights tend to be clearer. Thanks Jackie.

  20. Sol December 10, 2015 at 6:14 pm - Reply

    What amazing pictures. Can you please tell us if you booked this as a tour or did it all your self. this is on my bucket list. True beauty if I ever saw it. A veil from the heavens.

    • Jessica December 10, 2015 at 9:00 pm - Reply

      We did it ourselves, just booked a hotel in the right location then flights, car hire etc separately. It helped that the hotel was more of an activity centre so they laid on the canyon trip and ferried us to the headland to watch the lights, although it was just as good watching them from their lawn on the second night.

  21. Amy December 10, 2015 at 6:36 pm - Reply

    Splendid!! What more can be said? Except how marvelous it is that you two could be there to enjoy it (and record it!)!

    • Jessica December 10, 2015 at 9:10 pm - Reply

      We were very fortunate. Now an experience never to be forgotten.

  22. Sarah December 10, 2015 at 6:38 pm - Reply

    Mike’s pictures are superb it must have been a wonderful experience to see this especially as it is not always guaranteed. Sarah x

    • Jessica December 10, 2015 at 9:14 pm - Reply

      His pictures are brilliant, especially as it was a first attempt. There was so much happening in the sky it was difficult to choose where to point the camera next. Thanks Sarah.

  23. Sue C. December 10, 2015 at 6:42 pm - Reply

    These are stunning photos, as were the previous ones of your trip. It look an amazing region. It’s on my wishlist of places to go – even more so now having seen your photos.

    • Jessica December 10, 2015 at 9:23 pm - Reply

      Hi Sue and welcome!
      It is a lovely area, worth visiting even without the Northern Lights. But I’m so glad we did see them having gone all that way.

  24. Island Threads December 10, 2015 at 6:57 pm - Reply

    they are fabulous Jessica, and just what I needed to cheer me, beautiful photos, Frances

    • Jessica December 10, 2015 at 9:25 pm - Reply

      You must be far enough north to see the lights too Frances?

  25. Denise December 10, 2015 at 7:23 pm - Reply

    Now there is something special. So glad you got to see them and fitting, too, given your heroic efforts this year clearing trees to gove more light to your cottage.

    • Jessica December 10, 2015 at 9:31 pm - Reply

      I’ve still to find the perfect log cabin to stay in up there, warm and cosy inside, snowing like the clappers outside. Northern lights on pristine snow between the showers. Surrounded by conifers and totally peaceful. Not my roof if one of the trees should topple.

  26. Julie December 10, 2015 at 7:40 pm - Reply

    I had not considered on top of your lovely trip you would be able to see this amazing phenomenon too. Wonderful photographs and I really hope we get to see this too one day. Definitely worth the gamble!

    • Jessica December 10, 2015 at 9:33 pm - Reply

      We were very lucky. We went knowing that the odds were against us but the gamble did pay off. What surprised me was how wonderful the landscape is up there, worth seeing in itself.

  27. Kris P December 10, 2015 at 8:43 pm - Reply

    Absolutely gorgeous! The lights are worth the trip, the cold and all those layers of clothing you had to wear! The light pollution here is so bad that you can’t even see much in the way of stars anymore. I still remember my shock at seeing masses of stars like those in your photos when my family drove through desert country (New Mexico, I think) when I was a kid – it was like a revelation.

    • Jessica December 10, 2015 at 9:39 pm - Reply

      There are pros and cons to wherever we live. We are lucky here that we do have a very starry sky. The trouble is we so rarely see it on account of all the cloud!

  28. Jayne Hill December 10, 2015 at 9:04 pm - Reply

    Spectacular! Thank you so much for sharing :-}

    • Jessica December 10, 2015 at 9:40 pm - Reply

      You’re welcome Jayne. Thanks.

  29. Anna December 10, 2015 at 9:20 pm - Reply

    Yaaaaaay! So glad that you got to see what must be one of nature’s best shows on this planet. You say that you got to see the Northern Lights twice Jessica. Are your photos taken on the different nights?

    • Jessica December 10, 2015 at 9:43 pm - Reply

      Yes, there’s a mixture in there. On the second night the wave of light literally went across the sky from one horizon to the other. It really is quite incredible.

  30. Freda December 10, 2015 at 9:38 pm - Reply

    Wow! Thanks for sharing this Jessica. I am on Aurora Watch http://aurorawatch.lancs.ac.uk/alerts but there is a mountain between us and the northern horizon (more often close to the horizon here on west Scotland apparently) so no luck, yet…Might have to go to Norway.

  31. Amy at love made my home December 10, 2015 at 10:40 pm - Reply

    Absolutely stunning!!!!!!!!!! Such an incredible and wonderful sight!! Really amazing photos Mike! So glad for you that you got to see something so wonderful! xx

    • Jessica December 13, 2015 at 2:40 pm - Reply

      It was brilliant. I’d hoped for one night but to see the lights on two was the icing on the cake.

  32. Linda from Each Little World December 10, 2015 at 11:20 pm - Reply

    Your whole trip appears to be an amazing and memorable experience. You’ll be talking about this for years to come.

    • Jessica December 13, 2015 at 2:41 pm - Reply

      Indeed we will. Except that I just want to go again now..

  33. Beth @ PlantPostings December 11, 2015 at 4:02 am - Reply

    Oh yes, definitely worth it! And thanks for sharing these amazing images. I can’t even imagine how difficult it would be to capture the Aurora this perfectly. Just stunning!

    • Jessica December 13, 2015 at 2:44 pm - Reply

      It is quite tricky. To get the sort of photos you see on the web would need a good many return trips to practice methinks.. 🙂

  34. Dorothy @ The Nature of Things December 11, 2015 at 4:28 am - Reply

    Spectacular shots of a truly amazing phenomenon.

    • Jessica December 13, 2015 at 2:45 pm - Reply

      It is amazing, something I’ve been wanting to see for a good many years.

  35. Sheila December 11, 2015 at 5:36 am - Reply

    Breathtaking! This is something I would love to see. It is sometimes visible in Ontario if you are far North enough and very lucky. Maybe one day.
    Thank you for sharing..xx

    • Jessica December 13, 2015 at 2:47 pm - Reply

      I do hope you get to see it. They owner of the hotel is a bit of an expert and he said that this winter, so far, there have been some very strong auroras. You never know…

  36. derrickjknight December 11, 2015 at 7:27 am - Reply

    Well done, both of you

    • Jessica December 13, 2015 at 2:48 pm - Reply

      Thanks Derrick. Another thing ticked off the bucket list. For now..

  37. Julieanne December 13, 2015 at 11:45 am - Reply

    Incredible photos – thanks to Mike. And I enjoyed reading about the Northern Lights in more detail. It looks like you got a great show. I would love to see then Northern Lights some time, maybe I’ll wait for the next 11 year cycle. Definitely worth the gamble

    • Jessica December 13, 2015 at 2:51 pm - Reply

      Assuming that it goes to plan that makes the next maximum 2025, but solar activity starts to build up a couple of years before that.

  38. pagedogs December 13, 2015 at 1:43 pm - Reply

    You were fortunate to catch such a lovely display. Gorgeous photos. Years ago, when we we first lived in Alaska, we often lived in little cabins with no running water or electricity. A benefit of having an outhouse was that, when visiting it on cold winter nights, we would catch amazing Northern Lights that we otherwise would have missed had we stayed cozily inside!

    • Jessica December 13, 2015 at 2:54 pm - Reply

      It must be fabulous to live with that awesome spectacle all the time. It is so beautiful. Thanks.

  39. M. L. Kappa December 13, 2015 at 6:35 pm - Reply

    I’m quite green with envy – as green as the lights! So glad you managed to see them and had such a nice time! I’m getting vicarious pleasure from your photographs.

    • Jessica December 13, 2015 at 10:54 pm - Reply

      It’s a sight you have to see once in your life, quite incredible. Although it would have been a lot warmer in Athens.

  40. woolythymes December 13, 2015 at 6:57 pm - Reply

    I was crushed when I couldn’t pull this up at first…viewing the northern lights is #1 on my bucket list. Yes. Definitely worth the chance of not seeing…..dynamite. Thanks for sharing.

    • Jessica December 13, 2015 at 11:00 pm - Reply

      Sorry Steph, great timing huh. But I’ve done so many updates before and they’ve been fine! I do hope you get a chance to see the Northern Lights, getting so cold is worth it really.

  41. germac4 December 13, 2015 at 11:33 pm - Reply

    Stunning! Thanks for sharing…especially as this is something Paul and I are unlikely to see for ourselves. Wonderful photos.

    • Jessica December 13, 2015 at 11:50 pm - Reply

      Antarctica? It’s actually somewhere I’d really love to go but as I don’t do boats an impossibility for me. The Northern Lights are spectacular. I spent a lot of sleepless hours gazing out of the window hoping to see more but after the first two days the clouds rolled in along with snow.

  42. willow December 14, 2015 at 7:23 am - Reply

    My son spent three days in Tromso in mid-November and was lucky to have a clear night. His pictures are similar to yours and now I am doubly jealous! This summer we spent our holiday in Norway, but not quite as far north as Tromso, we had a few days in the Lofoton Islands. A wonderful place, I would like to return to Norway especially the far north.

    • Jessica December 14, 2015 at 7:25 pm - Reply

      Hi Willow and welcome!
      I’ve heard about Lofoton. Definitely a summer visit for me next time, the midnight sun must be a spectacular sight too. So much to see and the additional beauty of Norway is that it takes hardly any time to get there.

  43. sustainablemum December 14, 2015 at 9:02 am - Reply

    Oh my! Thank you. How wonderful to have seen such a display, nature at its best.

    • Jessica December 14, 2015 at 7:37 pm - Reply

      It truly is nature at its best. You have a better chance of seeing it in the UK than me, being that much further north.

  44. VP December 14, 2015 at 1:35 pm - Reply

    Wow that looks amazing. It’s been visible (allegedly) a couple of times in Wiltshire in the past year or so, but I’ve failed to see it even though people tweeted pics of it from just a few miles away.

    • Jessica December 14, 2015 at 7:54 pm - Reply

      Apparently, even though we are now moving away from the solar maximum there have been some really major magnetic storms this year, visible a long way south in the UK. Even in Norway there are aurora chasers, much like storm chasers, it doesn’t happen everywhere. But I guess the main problem for us would be cloud and light pollution.

  45. Helene December 17, 2015 at 3:42 am - Reply

    You were lucky to see the northern light in November! A better time is late January or February simply because it is often high pressure and clear skies at that time. I grew up in Kirkenes in Norway, the furthest north-east you can come, only a few miles from the Russian border and we were spoilt with northern lights so often that we didn’t really pay attention to it going to school and out to play 🙂
    I would have loved to go back today and take some photos, Mike’s photos were gorgeous, and it takes skill to get the light balance right. And I agree, the lights from Tromsø just add to the colourful impression. Did you see any yellow or red northern light? Sometimes the ‘curtains’ or waves can have layers of different colours, really awesome!

    • Jessica December 17, 2015 at 11:21 pm - Reply

      No, only green unfortunately. Apparently it depends on which gases react and how high up in the atmosphere. But I was so excited to see what we did… especially in November! It was also good that it was not quite dark, so we did enjoy the day time sightseeing as well.

  46. Sue December 18, 2015 at 12:02 pm - Reply

    Wow!! Amazing photographs. a brilliant experience to see this so clearly.

    • Jessica December 18, 2015 at 9:14 pm - Reply

      It really was. I think we were lucky though, given that it’s not the best time of year to go.

  47. Donna@Gardens Eye View December 19, 2015 at 2:47 pm - Reply

    I had no doubt you would see the Lights. My niece flew to London from Colorado in October. They stopped over in Iceland and saw the Lights….it is something I long to do see these beautiful Lights. You can see them sometimes north of us way out in the country….but I prefer to see them closer to the Arctic Circle. Thank you for this amazing post Jessica!

    • Jessica December 19, 2015 at 8:49 pm - Reply

      It was my pleasure, literally! I’m glad your niece saw them too, it’s by no means certain. I’d have felt robbed though if we’d gone all that way and it had been cloudy every night.

  48. Marian December 26, 2015 at 11:15 pm - Reply

    Wow wow wow! Your posts of your trip to the very north of Norway have me in total awe! It’s been a dream of me to see the aurora borealis forever and to experience the amazing Norway landscape. I’ve even dreamt of moving to Norway with our whole family when the kids were still little but adventurous as I may be my husband isn’t and sofar we haven’t even traveled that far yet. I hope someday I can convince him to go there like you did. Your photos are amazing and make me want to go there even more now. Wishing you a wonderful, happy and adventurous 😉 2016!

    • Jessica December 27, 2015 at 5:33 pm - Reply

      Thanks Marian. The beauty of it is that it really isn’t that far to travel compared with long haul destinations. And it can be made a lot easier even than the way we did it – by staying closer to Tromsø or having the hotel do the driving etc. although obviously that makes it a lot more expensive. I hope you get the chance.. it really is a fabulous place to go.

I'd love to hear from you..

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