Witnessing the dancing colours of the Northern Lights may seem out of reach, but this nearly indescribable phenomenon should be on your bucket list.
Story & photographs by Evan Haussmann.
I was agog. Just recalling the eerie dance of acid-green sheets of light brings on the crick in my neck sustained from craning upward, hoping for more magic. The aurora borealis appeared as mysterious pillars, shafts, wisps and haloes of light, rippling across a black sky. Sometimes they’d tease, threatening to form but fading fast; on one occasion the display was so vivid, I could feel the crackling of the light. Honestly, using words to describe an aurora are as inadequate as using a low-on-toner, out-of-register copy of a photocopy to describe a 3D, surround-sound, big-screen cinema. Should the opportunity to witness the mesmerising phenomenon ever arise, I say grab it with both hands, teeth and toes because the experience is absolutely, definitely to die for.
What is the aurora borealis?
In Finnish folklore, this phenomenon is called revontulet, which means fox fires. According to the tale, the Arctic fox sets off the auroras when its fur touches the mountains as it runs in the distant north. It’s a spectacular display of light brought about by solar flares throwing particles into space and when these meet the Earth s magnetic shield they’re led toward the magnetic poles. About 100 kilometres above Earth s surface they interact with the upper layers of the atmosphere. Charged particles collide with the Earth’s magnetic field, which causes a green or reddish light display in the sky. They’re usually visible only at night within the Arctic and Antarctic polar circles. In the southern hemisphere, they’re called aurora australis or southern lights.
When to go?
The best time of year is around the equinox in March and September/October because it offers the best balance between dark skies and mild weather. You need clear, dark sky to see them and, although auroras happen all the time, activity is usually highest in the three to four hours around midnight. Avoid nights with a full moon and areas with a great deal of light pollution. Auroras occur when there’s a lot of sun-spot activity which runs in 11-year cycles. Sun-spot activity is peaking and will continue until 2012.
Where to see auroras?
We stayed at the Hotel Kakslauttanen in Ivalo, Finland. With traditional log cabins and state of the art glass igloos as accommodation plus activities such as dog sledding and skiing, the resort is geared to keep you busy should the northern lights not play along. Local guides say the lights appear about 200 nights a year so all that stands in your way is cloud cover. Other notable places to see the auroras are in Fairbanks, Alaska, Canada’s Yukon, Kangerlussuaq in Greenland and Jukkäsjarvi in Sweden.
Closer to home?
The aurora activity doesn’t take place over inhabited regions, so seeing it in the southern hemisphere is difficult and very rare. However, if you were to brave the cold in Antarctica between March and September you d have a good chance of a sighting.
By day the captivating snow-covered terrain is an adventurer’s playground, with activities such as snowmobiling, husky sledding and cross-country skiing on offer.
Shot to, with and for Nokia’s N8 smartphone
Some of the video and photographic footage from this assignment was shot on the Nokia N8 Smartphone. The Carl Zeiss lens in the 12-megapixel camera phone produces images of astounding quality, rivalling many compact cameras. Its onboard HD video recording capability, coupled with the standard bundled software, allowed us to shoot, edit and upload videos directly to YouTube.
View the snowmobiling and dogsledding videos and images we produced with the phone at tiny.cc/evansblog.
This article appeared in Getaway Magazine