When Angels are Painting – Seeing the Northern Lights in Norway
The Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis are a natural phenomenon that can paint the night sky with unearthly, surreal colours.
There are several myths about the Northern Lights. One of them says you should avoid waiving, singing or whistling at the Northern Lights. People used to believe that the spirits would come down and take you away.
Some Alaskan Inuits would hide their children, and sometimes try to throw dog excrement and urine up in the air to make the lights go away.
Nowadays we know that these dramatic and colourful lights are created when electrically charged particles from solar winds enter the earth’s atmosphere and interact with gases in the atmosphere.
The stronger the solar winds are the more intense the Northern Lights will glow.
The colour depends on the type of atmospheric gas and although mostly you see them glowing in a greenish colour, they can be seen in many different colours from creamy yellow to lavender purple and sometimes they will fade from one colour to the next.
Typically they occur within the Arctic Circle, but with a little luck they can also be seen further South.
Okay, so how about Southern Lights?
Yes, there are also Southern Lights which occur in the Antarctic Circle and with a little luck in Southern Australia or New Zealand.
In Europe the Northern Lights can be seen all around Northern Scandinavia and Iceland, but surely one for the best places for seeing them is Norway.
So where to see the Northern Lights in Norway?
Generally you need to be around the Arctic Circle, it must be a clear night sky and you should be away from big cities with high light pollution. And then you just need to be lucky and have strong enough solar winds coming from the sun.
Good chances for seeing them in Norway are from the Lofoten Islands up to the North Cape. And although you might also see some beautiful Northern Lights when exploring Svalbard, the chances are lower because being half way between Norway and the North Pole it’s already too far North.
The first time I saw the Northern Lights I was one week hitchhiking around Lofoten, hiking and camping at beautiful beaches. The rocky mountains of the Lofoten Islands offer a perfect setting for taking great pictures. Me and my hitchhiking buddy, Remi got invited to stay the night with a lovely family. And while we were sitting around having a chat suddenly they called us out. We ran out of the house and stood there in amazement. I didn’t want to take any pictures, but just enjoy the show.
Imagine how the colours where dancing across the night sky. Thin lines of green quickly changing with a pale yellow moving along the sky from one horizon to the other. Together with the smiling moon and the sparkling stars the painting is complete.
Most famous for seeing the Northern Lights is also Tromsø. There are several tour operators offering Northern Lights tours in Tromsø, but if you want to explore them on your own you need some transportation to get out of the bigish city.
I have a South African friend living in Tromsø. He told me the first time he saw the Northern Lights he was asking who’s turning them on and off.
While I was in Tromsø, I hitchhiked a few days around Kvaloya, the neighbouring island. The first night I slept in a guest house where they were so nice and let me sleep for free in the common room on the couch. I also saw some Northern Lights that night but when I had my camera ready they were gone already.
The next night I was camping in a beautiful fjord called Ersfjord, which is also well-known for whale watching. That night I saw some very beautiful Northern Lights. Camping at the fjord with the Northern Lights illuminating the sky and the sea reflecting the colourful rays was an amazing experience.
Another great place for seeing the Northern Lights in Norway is Skibotn. I like this place very much because it’s a small village, so you’re out in nether land in no time. Due to it’s very dry climate it’s most likely clear sky there.
And when is the best time to see the Northern Lights?
You have good chances to see them from October until March. They can be seen as long as it’s dark enough. I usually saw them the strongest around 10pm though.
The solar storms also come in a 11-year cycle with the last maximum in 2014. So 2019 or 2020 should have the least and 2025 again the most Northern Lights.
What the heck are these rainbow coloured clouds?
Polar Stratospheric Clouds! They have actually nothing to do with Northern Lights, but they are nearly as cool as Northern Lights and are far better than all hallucinogenic drugs!
These colourful clouds can only be seen in the Arctic during the polar nights. They consist of ice particles that reflect the low sun light.
How my hitchhiking buddy, Remi beautifully describes the Northern Lights…
Aurora Borealis. Just the name of it sounds colourful and magical : green, purple, strong, smooth, lines, curves. A dance more magnificent than swans moves, a move from the universe itself. It’s a dance unrealisable for humans, and yet it fills up our most fantastic dreams. There is something even more powerful and subtile than the colours and the dance : the music it delivers. Sounds for sore ears. Again, humans have never been able to reproduce it, on the contrary, they tend to go away from it! It’s a symphony in the sky, a ballad of flames and a melody to make you cry and smile at the same time. It’s the sound of peace. When you start to listen, you will only hear the beating of your heart, accelerating as the aurora is growing. Because silence is a masterpiece in these lands… All your senses are prisoners from the aurora, you can’t control anything, and what is happening is that you deliver yourself to it. Because you have never heard such silence and never seen such picture, in reality!
Thanks to Remi for some amazing pictures – check his Flickr account for more great pics!
Anyway, neither words nor pictures come close to the experience of seeing the spectacular happening of the Northern Lights. So you should definitely go and see them yourself!