Northern lights

The guide for Aurora Hunter

What are the Northern lights? When can you see them? How do you predict them and not miss your opportunity to see them? Read this article, and prepare for the show of the North.

What are the Northern Lights?

The aurora borealis, commonly called the northern lights, is an observable natural phenomenon that occurs primarily in high-latitude areas, particularly in the Arctic. Auroras happen in dynamic patterns of scintillating lights that envelop the sky through curtains, rays, spirals, or dynamic flickers.

Auroras arise due to perturbations in the magnetosphere induced by the solar wind. Significant perturbations arise due to accelerations in the velocity of the solar wind caused by coronal holes and coronal mass ejections. These disturbances modify the trajectories of charged particles within the magnetospheric plasma. Precipitation of these particles, predominantly protons and electrons, occurs in the thermosphere and exosphere of the upper atmosphere.

Ionization and excitation of atmospheric components result in light emission with a wide range of hues and complexities. The acceleration applied to the precipitating particles also influences the configuration of the aurora, which manifests in bands surrounding both polar regions.

Auroras are observed on most planets within the Solar System and on certain natural satellites, brown dwarfs, and comets.

When can I see them?

Between September and March, the auroras are visible in Northern Lapland virtually every other clear night, whereas, in southern Finland, they are only visible from 10 to 20 nights per year. You can observe the Northern Lights if you travel north wherever the night sky appears clear and celestial, which is any location near or above the Arctic Circle.

Is there any forecast?

Yes, there are. Request “Aurora forecast” or “Northern Lights Forecast” to your search engine, and enjoy the list of websites.

For example, ISES RWC Finland provides real-time information regarding the intensity of geomagnetic disturbances in Finland. A strong connection exists between geomagnetic activity and auroras. Auroras will likely be observed when the activity level surpasses a location-specific threshold. As a nowcasting tool, monitoring magnetic activity is as follows: it is time to watch the sky when activity reaches a “red” level in the service provided by the station in closest proximity. The service also broadcasts images from All Sky cameras in Finland at night.

It might be good to have an application for observations that provides notifications about possible Northern Lights. Student chats are often immediately blown up with messages and photos when the Northern Lights appear.

Tips for Aurora Hunter

Locate an open, dark area, preferably distant from the city lights. Determine whether or not you can see auroras without obstruction to spot them predominantly on the northern horizon.

Wear warm clothing. Remember that Northern lights may occur for 15 minutes and disappear for a few months!

If you live on the LUT campus, you can go to the pier near the university or any other shore of Saimaa Lake.

How do you picture them?

Nowadays, most of the newest phone models will allow us to picture northern lights in night mode with long shutters. However, quality might not be the best. Remember to keep your phone stable and turn off flash.

Action cameras like GoPro have special modes for night timelapse. Just find it, fix your camera, and turn it on. The video by Art Merikotka below is an example from September 2023, shot from the balcony on campus.

It’s a bit different and a much more vibrant video from March 2024 from the same spot.

For more serious cameras, you can search for guides like this or that. Maybe once you take photos like the one below: a picture by Joni Tuohimaa made in Oulu.