The wait is on. Above, the sky is an eerie blue and every once in a while,
the moon peeps out from the scattered clouds. “It needs to get darker,” says our guide, as the falling temperatures begin to test the patience of those who have opted for this night excursion. Most choose to sit in the comfort of the heated bus, waiting for the show to start in the sky before stepping out.
It’s the lure of spotting the aurora borealis that has brought us to Northern Norway on a cold night. But at the moment, standing around a bonfire while eating marshmallows and hot dogs, and trying to distract oneself from succumbing to the biting cold, it’s hard to remember why this natural phenomenon, popularly known as the Northern Lights, finds a mention in almost every ardent traveller’s wish list.
For the unaware, the bright dancing lights of the aurora are collisions between electrically charged particles from the sun that enter the Earth’s atmosphere. They are typically spotted above the magnetic poles of the Northern and Southern hemispheres, known as aurora borealis in the North and aurora australis in the South. The picturesque town of Tromsø is one of the best places in the world to spot them from August end to early April.
The sky around the winter is dark and clear enough to see the lights. But do bear in mind that the Northern Lights are unpredictable. While a clear sky increases your odds of catching the show, there are times when you could see them dancing the brightest on a cloudy night. Also, the weather changes in a heartbeat. You may step out armed with the forecast of a clear sky and be caught in rain or snow within a few minutes.
It is better to have realistic expectations. “There’s not been a single show so far this season,” the guide informs. “We have just a 10% chance of us seeing something tonight,” he adds.
As the clock approaches 11pm, something changes. The guide furiously begins clicking pictures on his DSLR and tells everyone to step out. “Look there,” he points to the sky in the north. The naked eye can see nothing, but green streaks are slowly coming into focus on long exposure on his camera. Is this it, we wonder? Are these the famed Northern Lights? Then slowly, the show begins in the sky. At first, it’s just patches of green. Then an arc appears, streaking across the dark night, lighting it up. The lights shine brightly for a few minutes and then disappear. New shapes appear in different sizes.
After a few minutes, it stops just as suddenly as it started. “Let’s go,” shouts our guide. We troop into the bus, which races in a new direction. Ten minutes in, we have arrived at a new spot. Above, the Northern Lights are doing a jig. This one has shades of blue and red. Even the lake around us is lit up by the lights. The town of Tromsø can be seen in the distance, looking like something straight out of a Christmas postcard. It is a spectacular sight. The temperature has plummeted to below zero degree Celsius. We can no longer feel our legs. But we cannot either tear our eyes away from the night sky.
Best places to spot the Northern Lights
- Fairbanks, Alaska: Late August to mid-April
- Reykjavík, Iceland: Late August to early April
- Yellowknife, Canada: Mid-August to late April
- Tromsø, Norway: Mid-September to late March
- Lapland region, Finland: Mid-September to late March
Did you know?
Auroral displays appear in many colours. Pale green and pink are most common, but it is possible to see shades of red, yellow, green, blue, and violet.
The lights appear in many forms — from patches or scattered clouds of light to streamers, arcs, rippling curtains or shooting rays. They tend to light up the sky with an eerie glow.
You are about twice as likely to see auroras around the equinoxes than around the solstices. Reportedly, the Earth’s magnetic field is best oriented for “connecting” with the sun during this time.
It doesn’t need to be cold for you to see the lights, but the sky should be clear. So preferably, stay outside between 10pm and 1am for the best chance.
Also try this
Go whale watching: Watching humpback whales and orcas having a gala time in the beautiful fjords offers multiple #nofilter photo opportunities.
Stay in an ice hotel: It opens around Christmas and stays opens till it melts away. It can be a wonderful experience to spend the night on an ice bed covered with thick reindeer hide.
Attempt dog sledding: You’ve seen it in the movies. So how about trying it in real life?
Spot a reindeer: Known to pull Santa’s sleigh, see what these fascinating creatures look like in real life.
Try ice fishing: As the name suggests, sitting on the snow and making a fishing hole next to you can be quite fun.
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