Whether people have travelled to Finland in order to experience Aurora Borealis or have seen them in photos or videos, Northern lights – as they’re also referred to as – are spellbinding for almost everyone. Here are ten interesting things you might not know about the amazing auroras, written by Thomas Kast, Aurora Borealis photographer and enthusiast living in Finland. All images on this post were provided by Thomas Kast, check out more of his amazing imagery of Finland’s Northern Light’s and guides on how to shoot the Auroras at his website Salamapaja.fi. If you’re interested in Finland’s Arctic Circle and Lapland, check out this post for more breathtaking images and information: 10 Cool Things from Lapland
1. The words Aurora (the Roman goddess of dawn) and boreal (the Greek name for north wind) create the name Aurora Borealis. Auroras can also be seen in the Southern hemisphere, where they are called Aurora Australis or Southern lights.
2. There are many tales and beliefs about the mysterious Aurora Borealis. One folk tale from Finland tell the story of an Arctic fox that runs across the fell mountains of Lapland. Up and down the fells its way leads through a wintery landscape. The fox’s tail sweeps snow high up into the sky, and that’s how the Northern lights appear.
3. Northern lights are formed high up in the sky; 80km and higher. That’s why clear skies without clouds are needed. For some reason most clear nights in Finland, and the best times for seeing Auroras, occur around both equinoxes (September/October and February/March).
4. Auroras originate nearly 150,000,000 km away from Earth. Our sun sends clouds of charged plasma particles towards Earth, which is called solar wind. If that wind is strong enough, it penetrates our magnetic field and enters Earth’s atmosphere. There, the charged particles collide with oxygen and nitrogen to create colorful light. Auroras are ‘born’.
5. Most commonly Northern lights are visible in Northern Scandinavia (Lapland), Northern Russia, Alaska and Canada. In favorable conditions the ‘aurora zone’ expands further South.
6. At the end of summer, the midnight sun fades away in Finland, making way for darker nights. Only then it becomes possible to see auroras. Many people are not aware that the season for Aurora-spotting in Finland begins as early as September and continues until March.
7. During solar max the sun produces many bursts on the surface releasing solar wind. That is the best time to travel and hope to see auroras. Solar max occurs about every ~11 years and right now we are in solar max (2013-2015)
8. Northern lights can appear in different shapes. A green curtain stretching all over the horizon is very common. As that curtain rises higher and travels through the sky more details can be visible, such as fast-moving needles. When the solar wind is strong, the lucky ones can see a corona opening up right above in the sky. Countless rays spread out in multiple colors. This usually lasts less than a minute. It is like looking into the soul of Northern lights and for many it is considered the most powerful experience.
9. Auroras can be in the sky for only minutes or as long as the whole night. The colors are pale and usually not as vivid as in photos. The reason is in the camera, which is able to record these colors much stronger.
10. To bring back some nice photos, a camera with manual mode is needed, as well as a tripod for sharp images and a flashlight. Temperatures at night can be anywhere between +5C…-40C, so spare batteries and appropriate clothing are a big advantage.
Only a small percentage of people actually live in the ‘aurora zone’ where Northern lights are seen frequently. That, and all the uncertainties of seeing the magic Aurora Borealis, makes it so special to see them. Every night is a surprise, you never know what to expect. After all, it’s up to that fox sweeping up snow into the sky..