Aurora Borealis

28 Feb 2017, Employees after hours

When we all are busy with our day to day office routines and focusing on our deadlines & targets, I am sure that at the back of our mind, we are thinking about the coming holiday period.  In fact these holidays keep us motivated, even if we have rigorous office routines.

I had a wonderful holiday last winter, an experience that was unforgettable! It was a truly lifetime experience! I was in the Arctic Circle, at Tromso, Norway!

Right from my school geography days, the Arctic Circle fascinated me a lot.  Particularly when it came to description of a “Starry Night”!

“The sun does not rise for six months, and it is dark everywhere. The North Star which you always see on the horizon, you find directly overhead; and you see all the constellations, marching around horizon.”  My teacher used to describe the nights in Arctic Circle.

 As a child, this was very fascinating; just like a fairy tale! But no one talked about Aurora Borealis then.  I learned about them accidently, watching some video on You Tube. At first I couldn’t believe it. (For your quick reference, Maciej Winiarczyk is a notable photographer in the field. His footage of aurora is enchanting.)

Aurora is an incredible natural light phenomenon that can be seen in places of high latitude that means in the polar zones.  These look like dancing light ribbons in the sky changing their shapes at each moment. Auroras can be in green, red, purple, blue, or violet colors.  The Aauroras appear suddenly in any form, from small patches of light that appear out of nowhere to streamers, or like arches, or like a rippling curtains or like shooting rays.  The sudden appearance of Aurora lights up the sky with an incredible glow. It is just amazing!

When I saw some pictures of Aurora & watched lots of videos, I told myself, this is something I am not going to miss.

Let me take a chance to explain very briefly why Aurora occurs.

Solar activity, or I may describe it as storms or solar winds, release a lot of electrically charged particles in the solar system. These charged particles enter the earth’s atmosphere. The Earth has strong magnetic fields, especially towards the poles & this causes collisions between electrically charged particles released from the Sun with the gases in Earth’s atmosphere such as oxygen and nitrogen. This collision happens at high altitude in the atmosphere. If the particles collide with the Oxygen molecules located about 60 miles above the Earth, we see green Auroras which are the most common. The rarer red auroras are produced by even higher-altitude oxygen collision, at the heights of up to 200 miles. Collision with Nitrogen produces blue or purple aurora.

Aurora’s can be seen in the northern or southern hemisphere.  Auroras that occur in the northern hemisphere are called ‘Aurora Borealis’ or ‘northern lights’ and auroras that occur in the southern hemisphere are called ‘Aurora Australis’ or ‘southern lights’.

So to summarize, to view Auroras, you need:

  • Enough strong solar activity releasing charged particles.
  • These particles should enter & collide with the gaseous molecules at the right altitude.
  • Another important factor is no artificial light should pollute the place.
  • There should not be any obstacles blocking the view. Auroras can appear anywhere in the sky, even on horizon.
  • AND the most important is you need have very clear sky.

There are lot of internet sites which provide information about strength of solar activities & thereby prediction of auroras.

With all this, I noted that to increase my chances to view aurora I need some technical expert in the field, who can understand and interpret all this technical information appearing on various sites and  will take me to the most perfect viewing point. This is the job of local tourist guides.

After some study, I realized that Tromso in Norway is the best place to see Auroras. It is in the middle of the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) zone. It is well connected by flights and  has all “urban” facilities. This makes the holidays more comfortable and less adventurous. The best season to watch Auroras is from November till end of February, when the Sun sets before horizon for months.

With all this gathered information, I was in Tromso last Christmas. I booked my “Chasing of Aurora” tour with local guide, Mariana & her Scottish friend George. (English in Scottish accent can be a challenge some times). But both of them were incredibly good at their job. They not only provided apt winter gears (which could protect us from -23 C to – 30 C for long hours) but also provided yummy dinner.

The sky was cloudy in Norway, so we had to travel right up to the Finland border!

At the border, we, five of us were standing on the no man’s land between Norway & Finland. Just five of us, no passing by cars, no artificial lights, - 27 degrees of temperature, and then the sky came to life. There were these amazing auroras coming up from all different corners. Dancing and changing their shapes. Most of them were in green but sometimes red & once or twice blue!

This was something I had never experienced before! All of us were excited, and screaming! After around 45 minutes, I could not stand the cold. I came back to the heated car, still trying to get some glimpse of the dance show touching nose to the ice cold window glass.   

Culturally auroras are not considered positively. Many of them thought that these are the whispers of widows, some of them believe that these are unsuccessful attempts of dead ones to create dialog with the living ones. Only Japanese culture considered it positive. It’s a recommended honeymoon destination for them.  

Do not wait, book your Aurora Borealis holidays! If you do not do it now or next year, your chances to see auroras will fade for next ten years. This is because solar activity happens in loop of ten years. This was strong in current decade, and will not be as strong as it is now in the coming years.

Anjali, Transition Manager

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