I recently returned from a lovely trip to the Arctic once again, to Ivalo in Finland. My readers will probably know by now that I tend to put a lot of research into each destination in terms of light pollution, easy of access, amenities and available activities.
This time around I stayed at Guesthouse Husky, just a 20 minute taxi/car rental ride from Ivalo Airport. So here is my review on this lovely family owned establishment. I will group my opinions in headings that should be of interest to most Aurora hunters and given them all ratings out of 10.
Northern Lights – 9/10
As a Northern Lights destination Guesthouse Husky ticks all the boxes. Located at roughly 67 degrees corrected geomagnetic latitude its in a great location for Aurora viewing close to the ‘Auroral band’. There is a clear view to the skies all the way around the lodge, with just some tree-lines on the lower horizon. There is also few manmade structures nearby to detract from the beautiful surroundings, the wooden main lodge and outhouses all blend beautifully into the surroundings.
Weather – 8/10
Located further inland than other Aurora destinations at a similar latitude means ‘statistically speaking’ Ivalo in Finland’s weather is a little more stable and is less affected by the coastal weather extremes that plagues much of coastal Norway and some parts of Sweden. Of course there is always the chance of cloud cover in any of these destinations especially when visiting in winter, clear skies are never a guarantee, but during my stays in northern Finland I have generally had a higher occurrence of clear skies the further inland I headed i.e. staying in Finland. Be ready though, it can also be quite a bit colder being further from the coast!
Accomodation – 9/10
The lodge itself is very cozy and welcoming and is based on three floors. There are two entrances into the lodge. One onto ground level from the front of the lodge, and the other to the first level from the back of the lodge. At ground level there’s the reception, and dining area as well as the Sauna. On the first and second floor are guest rooms which are very cozy, warm and spacious, with windows to see outside to check on the Aurora.
There’s also a communal kitchen area on the first floor, I spent much of my time there working on Aurora photos and blogging.
All in all the accommodation is clean, tidy and welcoming and the host Outi is a lovely woman that’s very helpful with any queries you may have.
Food – 10/10
Homecooked food is served if you choose the lunch and/or dinner options during your stay and you should definitely give it a try on at least one of your days. We decided to sample both for most of our stay and the food was consistently tasty and wholesome and we always left with a happy full tummy.
Activities – 7/10
As an Aurora hunter I don’t normally look at activities as a focal point when I visit. But normally end up doing one or two tours depending on budget/time. The dogsledding was a lot of fun and very reasonably priced compared to other operators I’ve used in Norway and Sweden. The dogs are beautiful, well taken care of and so full of zest and enthusiasm. The trail is beautiful and you get to drive the sled yourself and/or share with a second party member.
They also offer snowmobile tours of different durations that also give you the option to visit a Reindeer farm. A good idea if you’d really like to see Reindeer as they don’t come out to play too much in the Winter in the wild!
There’s a bunch of Aurora tours available too, but honestly I found the lodge was perfectly suitable as a Northern Lights base.
My main reason for rating slightly lower here is that I’ve find a few more options in terms of activities in other locations as well as some laid out walking trails.
Atmosphere – 9/10
I felt very at home and welcomed at Guesthouse Husky, the communal kitchen area and main dining area are nice cozy areas to meet other people should you be a lone traveller, and most times people will strike up a conversation about their mutual love of the Northern Lights anyway so its really easy to get to know the people there =)
Overall I would rate Guesthouse Husky a 9/10 which makes it one of the better options when choosing a Northern Lights destination. It’s closeby to the town of Ivalo, yet isn’t affected by light pollution to any significant degree so Northern Lights viewing is easy when there is activity and clear skies. Hosts are friendly, food is available onsite, its easy to drive to from the airport and there are activities available from the lodge, not to mention a stunning beautiful environment.
Here are some photos taken of the Northern Lights as well as general images from the area.
After several years of research, kilometers travelled, multiple destinations visited, dark drives down foreign icy roads, snow storms, disappointment, exhilaration, several failures but more successes, here is my two cents on everything Aurora Borealis
First off, before I start I wanted to elaborate a little on the above. I’ve always held a certain fascination for the Northern Lights. My earliest memory was a documentary on the Discovery channel on Antartica when I was around 12 years old. I found them ethereal and magical and straight away wanted to know more about them and see them.
Being a 12 year old though has it’s drawbacks =) Being completely at the mercy of my parents destination wishlist meant that I wouldn’t really get to chase this dream until a little later on. So that plan was on the back burner for a few years.
So I studied, left school, and started working. At the age of 20, the Northern Lights popped into my little noggin again, and with freedom and a paycheck, I started doing my research and was adamant this time on seeing the Aurora Borealis.
I researched everything from Solar cycles, weather patterns, prediction techniques and annual aurora statistics to ideal destinations under the Auroral Oval.
I’m now 26 and over the last 6 years have seen the Aurora Borealis many times in many varieties and intensities. Those places include Yellowknife (Canada), Skibotn (Norway), Tromso (Norway), Kiruna (Sweden), Abisko (Sweden) and Ivalo/Inari (Finland). I’ve also experienced some failures along the way, and while you can never be guaranteed Aurora displays, I have learnt a few useful things along the way
What causes the Aurora Borealis?
Aaah the Sun =) The beautiful Sun! Not only does it sustain life on Earth, but it creates one of the most beautiful natural displays known to man. The Aurora Borealis happens due to the interaction between the Solar Wind and the Earth’s magnetic field.
There are a few terms worth remembering just so it’s a little easier to understand.
Solar Wind – A stream of particles originating from the Sun that travels towards us (and other planets alike). It can vary in density (i.e number of solar particles i.e. protons/electrons in the stream), and in speed. Higher speed streams will reach us faster than slower streams. IMF – Interplanetary Magnetic Field. This is the magnetic field carried with the solar wind. Remember the sun has it’s own Magnetic field, and as the particles leave the Sun, they carry with them magnetic field lines. Magnetopause – This is a boundary between the Earth’s magnetic field and the Solar Wind. Think of it as a sort of barrier stopping the Solar Wind from reaching us.
The Earth’s magnetic field is pointed North at the Magnetopause (this is illustrated in the image below). Think of a magnet for a second….If the IMF is in a Northern direction, then it will ‘clash’ with our own Northern Magnetic field at the Magnepause and it will repel the solar wind.
However, think of the opposite. If the IMF contains Southern facing magnetic field lines, it will ‘link’ up with our Northern facing Magnetopause and both field will cancel each other out! This in essence opens a portal for Solar wind to enter our atmosphere.
So to sum up, as the Solar Wind approaches and strikes the Earth’s Magnetopause, it causes it to bend and flex. If the IMF in the Solar wind has a southern facing direction, the Solar Wind will eventually causes a ‘break’ in the Magnetosphere and creates two Magnetotails that swing around and behind the Earth. When the Magnetotails from both sides meet up on the otherside, they ‘snap’ and slingshot the Solar Wind particles towards our poles.
The Solar wind particles collide with the Oxygen/Nitrogen atoms in our own atmosphere. These collisions ‘excite’ the Oxygen atoms. When these ‘excited’ Oxygen atoms return to their previous calm state, they emit light in the process. This results in the Northern (or Southern) Lights.
This is slightly over simplified, but illustrates the process by which Solar Wind particles reach our poles.
What triggers high intensity Auroras?
The body of knowledge on the Solar wind and it’s relationship to our planet and the Northern Lights is far from complete. But relationships have been deduced and there are things we do know with relative certainty. Before we answer this question lets specifically look at the ways in which the Solar Wind reaches us.
Coronal Holes – Coronal Holes are dark regions on the Sun’s Corona (sort of it’s own atmosphere) where temperatures are cooler. They act as ‘funnels’ for the Solar wind to escape the Sun and travel towards us. Coronal Holes are generally responsible for High Speed Solar Streams (and also Low speed streams). The intensity of Northern Lights caused by these streams are dependent on the IMF of the Solar Wind Stream, the number of solar particles in the stream (plasma density), and the duration of time the stream is hitting us.
Coronal Mass Ejections (CME) – CME’s are sudden high speed ejections of large amounts of solar wind and magnetic field lines from the Suns surface. They are sporadic and unpredictable and originate from Sunspots on the sun’s surface. They are classed by intensities, B, C, M and X. The latter being the most powerful. Typically they also take 24-48 hours to reach us. So when news arrives of decent CME’s Aurora hunters all over the world await with baited breath and hope for clear skies =)
So what conditions can cause Geomagnetic Storms? Here are a few examples:
Solar Wind Streams with good southern IMF – Solar Streams with a decent southern Bz (Southern IMF of approx -5nT or less), with moderate to high Particle Density (approximately greater than 5 protons/cm3), that last for extended periods of time, can cause Geomagnetic Storms and cause intense Aurora displays. Therefore contrary to popular belief, fantastic Auroras are not just the result of CME’s from our Sun.
CME’s – CME’s of class C, M and X (C being the weakest, M more powerful and X are real whoppers and only happen a couple of times a year) can trigger geomagnetic storms. The higher class CME’s are more likely to spark high intensity Auroras i.e. M and X, CME’s are intensified when they carry negative IMF’s too.
There are situations when weaker CME’s or weaker Solar Wind streams can still cause some amazing Auroras! Say for example that a good Solar Wind Stream is approaching Earth with a Southern IMF, this will in effect ‘weaken’ the Magnetic Field and allow Solar Wind to enter our atmosphere. Imagine now…there is also a CME on the way behind the Stream. Even a low class CME (say B or C) could be intensified due to the fact there is already a ‘portal’ open.
So as you can see, if’s not an exact Science. I’ve learnt to get a feel for conditions and can now predict with relative confidence when to expect something decent. I hope this helps you too!
What’s the best time of the year to see the Aurora Borealis?
This is one of the most common questions I get asked about the Northern Lights. The basic answer is that, although the Aurora Borealis is always present at the northern and southern magnetic poles, we can’t always see them because of daylight hours getting in the way during the summer months at such extreme latitudes. Therefore the best time to try and see this natural phenomenon is anytime between late August – early April when the window of opportunity with regards darker skies is higher.
Statistically speaking (I like my statistics) there seems to be higher Auroral activity around the Equinoxes, that is around the months of late September and late March. This is to do with slight variations of the Earth’s tilt axis relative to the Sun’s tilt. During the equinoxes the Earth’s magnetic axis more suitably aligns with that of the Sun’s and larger deviations into negative Bz are more likely, therefore facilitating Solar Wind particle transfer into our atmosphere. Suffice to say, activity does tend to be higher around these months.
This is NOT to say that spectacular Aurora’s are not possible in the interim months, in fact I have seen fabulous displays in other months. But since I don’t get to travel as much as I’d like, I like to give myself the best chances and stick to those times.
My personal preference is February/March, due to the fact weather tends to stabilize in Northern Scandinavia after December.
Where are the best places to see the Northern Lights?
There is no one right answer for this one as there are many places you can see the Northern Lights. As long as you are situated far enough North (or south if you are thinking of the Aurora Australis) then you stand a chance of seeing the Aurora. North of 63/64 degrees latitude roughly is a good place to see them.
However, there is a slight catch to these numbers, in that I’m not talking about standard geographical latitude, but Corrected Geomagnetic Latitude. The Earth’s magnetic field is not perfectly aligned around our geographic poles, it deviates slightly. Therefore this ‘Corrected Geomagnetic Latitude’ is the true latitude you need with regards our magnetic field (and therefore Auroras). This is why in Europe, you need to be in Northern Scandinavia to see the lights, but in certain places in Northern US and Canada, you don’t need to be at such a high latitude. So, to sum up, North of 63/64 Corrected Geomagnetic latitude and you’re set =)
All you need to do is click on a location on the maps linked above, and you’ll be given latitudes, most importantly the corrected magnetic latitude. If the location is greater than 63/64 you will be able to see the Northern Lights there (if there’s activity and clear skies).
For some people, this might not be particularly helpful as we need specifics, easy to access towns that are close to convenient airports etc. So a more tailored answer for Aurora chasers is that any of the cities underneath the green band in these images, are good locations to spot the Northern Lights.
As for my own personal recommendations? Here is my top 5 places to see the Northern Lights. All tried and tested and I’ve had success in each one. They’re fantastic places to try your luck! I’ve listed them in order of my preference and given reasons why.
My top 5 Places to see the Northern Lights
Here are some of my suggestions for where to best see the Aurora Borealis from. These are tried and tested. Feel free to get in touch if you have other towns in mind and would like some advice.
I visited Ivalo and the surrounding area in March 2012 when working with Aurora Hunters for a week. The landscape in this part of Finland is vastly different to that of Abisko in Sweden and parts of Norway. It is much flatter, but so beautiful in a different way!
The landscape has a very winter wonderland type feel to it, with snow capped trees, and snow mounds everywhere. Really beautiful =) The people in Ivalo and the Inari region are so friendly and welcoming. Ivalo itself is a relatively small town, with everything you need, supermarket, local pub all within walking distance. I stayed at the Hotel Ivalo for a week. The hotel is basic but more than adequate, with clean rooms and decent food. The best part about this hotel is its lovely location in Ivalo. It sits right off the River Ivalo, literally, 20 seconds walk behind the hotel down a gentle slope onto the beautiful frozen river (On the picture to the right the Hotel is on the left hand side!) Not only is this a hub for daily activities such as snowmobiling and cross country skiing, but makes a good location to view the Northern Lights if you cant get out of the city!
Being a small town, Ivalo doesn’t actually have that much light pollution, which means Aurora viewing is entirely possible within the city. In fact I was witness to a wonderful display right on River Ivalo behind my hotel for about 2 hours with several of the hotel guests.
Of course this was a happy little extra, there are other options that involve heading outside the town, to some gorgeous locations in perfect darkness. One company I can highly recommend myself is Aurora Hunters. Andy Keen and his team of Aurora hunters will do their utmost to drive you to clear skies and Auroras, even if it means driving for hours to the Russian border! They provide entertainment, warm drinks and will help out with your photography equipment too! They also know all the beautiful locations to help you get the most out of your photography, I owe some of my best shots to Andy Keen 😉
Pros – Winter wonderland landscapes, amenities in town, low light pollution, plenty of activities, Aurora tour guides. Furthern inland, therefore colder with more stable weather patterns.
Cons – Staying inside the city does have some light pollution, but as long as the Aurora Borealis isn’t too weak you will see them. So tours may be required.
Abisko is a lovely little arctic town in the North of Sweden, nestled between Kiruna and Narvik in Norway. The scenery is beautiful with the famous Lapporten mountain range in sight, and wonderful frozen lakes nearby. The small town is offered some protection from cloudy weather due to the Norwegian mountain range, so some say there are clearer skies in this region than others in the area. I myself have noticed that it can clear up in a very short space of time in Abisko!
I stayed at the Abisko Mountain Lodge and I really can’t say enough good things about the place. Service, food, location is all top notch, and the best part of all? You just need to step outside your room/cabin into darkness to see the Northern Lights, so you can be ready at a moments notice. So there is no need to pack your car and head out into the dark night and sit in the cold for hours on end (as I’ve done many times!). This really is a bonus to this type of accommodation Your window of opportunity for viewing is so much higher when you can just step outside. If you’re up for something special, you can also take a chairlift up to the Aurora Sky Station for some amazing views over the beautiful Abisko region, and hopefully a great view of the lights!
Pros – Beautiful scenery, excellent food, wonderful hosts, no need to go anywhere to see the lights, activities organised from the lodge.
Cons – Can’t think of any!
Kiruna is a quirky mining town in the North of Sweden. It’s a wonderful base as from here you can get to Jukkasjarvi (where the Icehotel is) or to Abisko (my first choice).
Kiruna itself isn’t the most picturesque town, but does have a large selection of hotels, and many activities. My recommendation here if you’re not planning on staying in Abisko, is to head out to the Ice Hotel which is just a 15-20min taxi/drive from Kiruna.
Alternately you could stay in Kiruna and take nightly tours out to see the lights. But that will prove more expensive.
Pros – Good base, lots of activities leave from Kiruna, plenty of hotel selection. Easy access to Abisko and Ice Hotel.
Cons – Kiruna is a relatively large city and suffers from moderate light pollution, so you’d need to find a darker spot, either by tours, or renting a car and driving outside the city.
It’s almost a little painful for me to place Tromso 4th on the list. Tromso as far as cities go is an absolute gem. It is a gorgeous city nestled in the Arctic North. I’ve been there 4 times and loved it just as much as the time before. Some call it the Paris of the North and this title is well deserved. It is a beautiful, bustling town with every possible amenity you could think of. Restaurants, hotels, pubs, cinemas, shopping malls the lot.
The Clarion Collection hotel is a lovely nautical themed hotel (ask for a room with a view of the harbour they’re wonderful). Very fairly priced, good food, and free chocolate waffles and coffee all day are a real plus when you return from the cold.
My personal reservation with Tromso is twofold, it is the largest Arctic city I have visited, so has the worst light pollution. It is also a coastal town, and close to the Gulf Stream, therefore temperatures are milder than you would expect, but as a result suffers more from cloudy skies.
You would likely need to drive outside the city limits to find darker skies, and further inland if cloudy, to find clearer skies (along the E8). Alternately you could take nightly tours outside the city of which there are many. But I personally have had great success with Kjetil Skogli, a local photographer and Aurora hunter who also works tirelessly to find clear skies and Auroras if it’s at all possible. He drove us 3 hours out to Skibotn where I was treated to one of the best displays I’ve ever seen, despite a snow storm back in Tromso.
Pros – Beautiful city, all amenities, numerous tours and tourist activities, good Aurora guides.
Cons – Heavy light pollution, tends to suffer from cloudy weather
I’ve placed Yellowknife 5th on my list mostly because it’s across the pond from me 😉 So for us Europeans perhaps it’s slightly more out of reach, but for all of you over on the other side of the Atlantic I can’t say enough good things about this place, in particular the Blachford Lake Lodge which is where I spent my 5 nights in Yellowknife.
The lodge is on its own private plot of land and is accessible only by Bush plane, but oh my was it worth it! The landscape is absolutely astonishing. So beautiful and desolate at the same time, with wonderful safe forest trails surrounding the property. The lodge itself is top notch and has all the luxurious commodities you would need. The Chef is professionally trained and apart from the Abisko Mountain Lodge, I don’t remember the last time I’ve eaten better!
Pros – Amazing location with stunning scenery, private (no chance of overcrowding tourists), food to die for.
Cons – Hard to get to, no roads so you’re completely at the mercy of the weather.
Some other recommended locations are:
Norway – Lyngen, Alta, Kirkenes, Malangen
Finland – Inari, Nellim, Utsjoki
Sweden – Jukkasjarvi
Alaska – Fairbanks, Bettles
Canada – Churchill (Manitoba), Gillam (Manitoba)
Can the Northern Lights be seen further South?
Another common question is from people wanting to know whether they can see the Aurora Borealis from a little further south. This is entirely possible to a certain extent. I mentioned earlier that a good location for Northern Lights viewing was approximately North of 63/64 Corrected Geomagnetic Latitude, and in my opinion it is if you want to see the Aurora as brightly as possible, in all its glory, directly above you. (Personally I prefer to be bang underneath it at 65-67 Corrected Geomagnetic Latitude).
But this isn’t to say it’s not possible to see the Aurora to a different degree further south.
The general rule of thumb is that the further south you are from the Auroral band, the further North, and the lower, the Aurora will appear on the horizon. Keep travelling going South and eventually it dips beneath the horizon and we can no longer see it.
So how can you know if its possible for you to see it from your location?
Check out the latitude maps I linked earlier again:
Roughly look at the location in question, and then see where you’re positioned relative to the coloured lines in the image. These are the KP Index lines. They roughly tell you what KP Activity number the Aurora needs to have, for you to be able to see it at the location in question.
How many nights do I need to stay to see the Northern Lights?
The more the better! This is a little obvious, but really I always say the same thing. For most people trips to the Arctic Circle are a rarety, and expensive. All things considered I feel that since we’re going through the effort to travel so far, we might as well give ourselves the best shot! I strongly advise anyone that is serious about wanting to see the Aurora, to stay ATLEAST 3-4 nights. More really is better. There may be activity, but cloudy skies, or clear skies, and no activity, so stay as long as is possible.
According to the scientists in Kiruna, Sweden, you have about an 80% of seeing the auroras if you stay in the area for at least 3 days. This is likely too for any destination at similar latitudes (like those listed above).
I tend to spend between 5 and 7 days in any one location, and I’ve had a lot of success with this timeframe.
Can you actually see the Northern lights with the naked eye? Or is it all camera trickery?
The definite answer is YES! Yes you absolutely can see the Aurora with the naked eye. You can more than see it, when it’s active enough it’s so bright, intense and fast that your eyes won’t be able to keep up! You’ll want to stop time just to take it all in.
The problem is, there’s a common misconception that because Aurora photography can sometimes use long exposures to enhance the Aurora’s, that this is infact untrue to life, and it isn’t. When the Aurora borealis is weak, long term exposure photography is handy because it allows the camera to capture light over time, and as result you get a nice green band in your photos, much brighter than perhaps you can see yourself.
But this is just because the Aurora is weak. Infact it may appear to you (when your eyes have fully adjusted to the dark) as a pale green/ almost white band of light in the sky, immobile, and very faint. SO much so that you might think to yourself, is that it? Is that the famous Aurora Borealis?
Take the two shots below as examples, the left shot was a 2 second exposure, the right an 18 second exposure!
2 second Aurora Exposure
18 Second Aurora exposure
The left hand picture looks almost identical to the naked eye as the photo, whereas the right hand picture really looks nothing like it did in real life and infact appeared to me as a very VERY faint, and pale band in the sky. Just remember, photos with short exposures are more true to life, longer exposures enhance what we see.
It’s important to note, the Aurora Borealis is present in a great variety of intensities, from it’s lackluster weaker form, to it’s in your face, vibrant, dancing from one side of the sky to another in 2 seconds flat form. The latter will literally take your breath away, so much so the camera might be the last thing on your mind. You will just want to stare and take it all in.
So please, don’t be put off by any weak Aurora’s you may have seen, or any stories about how it’s all long exposure trickery. The Northern Lights are by far the most beautiful natural phenomenon I’ve witnessed. You just have to be lucky and catch her right 😉
Below is some video footage I captured of the Northern Lights in Yellowknife, Canada back in March 2008. I’ve sped it up quite a bit as the display was over 2 hours long! But rest assured the movement is very fast at normal speed too! Apologies for the grain, it’s actually read video footage, not time lapse images.
Will the Full Moon affect my Aurora viewing?
Short answer, not much. I used to be put off by the Full Moon, and always booked my Aurora hunting trips around the New or Crescent Moon, but there really is no need for this and it really limited the times I could travel!
Contrary to popular belief and suggestions, the Full Moon or Gibbous Waning moon will only affect your viewing of the Northern Lights if they are WEAK. In which case, it will make it harder to see the pale green bands in the sky. But honestly? If the Aurora has any decent level of activity it really matters very little, and it’s those impressive Auroras you really want to see =)
I actually PREFER the brighter moon phases as the Moon lights up the landscape beautifully and brings out all the details in my photographs. Just remember, even the Full Moon pales in comparison to a moderate to active Aurora, and it gives beautiful photographs 😉
I guess what it boils down to is preference, and for us photographers what it is you’re after from your shots. If you want a nicely lit landscape, the Half to Full Moons actually help us out (as long as the Aurora is of moderate activity). If you want more of a Star-field, or want to capture the Milky Way and the Aurora Borealis, then plan your travels around a New or Crescent Moons as the moonlight does obscure the star field.
What colour are the Northern Lights?
The most common colour of the Aurora Borealis is shades of green. Different colours start to appear depending on what elements are interacting with our Earth’s magnetic field. As the Solar Wind becomes trapped in our Magnetic Field at the poles, the solar particles collide with atoms and ions in our atmosphere and become ‘excited’. It is the settling down of this excited state that results in the emission of ‘light’. If the excited particles in question are Oxygen, we typically see the green/yellow light, however, if the Oxygen particles are at very high altitudes, a more seldom seen Red light colour is emitted at the top of the Aurora. If it’s Nitrogen particles, we are more likely to see a blueish tinge to the Aurora. Purples, whites, blues occur often in coronas (coronas appear as almost spindle looking shapes directly above, as if reaching directly down to you), but overall green is the most common =) There isn’t a geographical place where specific colours occur, its all totally random and depends on the activity of the Auroral oval over different parts of the world.
Can we predict Aurora Borealis activity?
A lot of people message me with dates they have in mind to travel to certain destinations, and they ask if there’s anyway to know if there will be Auroras (often times these dates are months in advance!)
The truth is, predicting the Northern Lights is a tricky business and there’s never an absolute guarantee. Predictions are always most reliable the closer we are to the dates in question (much like the weather).
To be specific, it takes approximately 24-48 hours for solar wind to travel the distance from the Sun to Earth (depending on the speed of the Solar Wind or Coronal Mass Ejections (CME). So relatively accurate predictions can only really be made in that time frame, 2-3 days ahead. Here are a few useful resources for gauging general Aurora activity currently and over the next few days:
Geographic Institute at Fairbanks University – A popular general prediction model. Good used as a general guideline but not updated everyday. Predictions are made for 5-6 days ahead, however if an event occurs on the Sun, this prediction model will not account for new activity due to it’s update intervals. Take with a pinch of salt.
SWPC Prediction Center – Ovation Model – A good realtime model showing the Aurora Borealis’ current oval over the Earth. The brighter the green (or white) in the model, the more intensely the Aurora can be seen over the estimated geographical location underneath.
SWPC KP Model – The Kp model is an indication of fluctuations in the horizontal component of our geomagnetic field, also referred to as the Kp value over a 3 hour period. Kp values of 3+ are considered to be conducive to Geomagnetic storms and more intense Auroras. However, Kp’s as low as 1/2 can sometimes spark some wonderful Auroras, especially if you’re situated directly underneath the Auroral band. This is because there could be isolated substorms that do not last for a long enough period to register as a high Kp number, so the average will be lower.
Astronomy North – These guys tend to be pretty accurate with predictions and likely monitor events on the sun as well as current solar wind data.
Longterm forecasts tend to be unreliable, but there are ways to see what potential long term activity COULD be. There is a method known as the Carrington rotation (you can see an example of this on the Gedds page) which is based on the Suns rotation pattern. The Sun fully rotates on its own axis every 27 days. If there is an active Sunspot that is causing Solar Flares or CME’s, there’s a chance that 27 days later, that same Sunspot could still be there and could dish out similar levels of activity.
The problem with longterm forecasts, is that Sunspots decay and die, and their activity wanes. So the Carrington rotation is not always reliable, and when the Sun rotates completely and is facing the Earth again, a particular Sunspot might not be there anymore.
Aurora Borealis activity is never guaranteed, unfortunately it’s a little like playing the lottery. Many people are blessed with days of fantastic displays, while others leave their holiday destinations only to hear of Auroras the day they left. (Personal experience! Very frustrating).
The most important thing to remember with the Aurora is that you need to be patient. She could make you wait hours but it will be totally worth the cold and frustration when she finally puts on a show for you.
I personally use a combination of current Solar activity and Solar Wind readings from the ACE satellite, and generally know when to head outside to within an hour of activity. But the above should get you on the right track
Here are some photographs I’ve taken over the last 5 years or so, all of which are in the locations listed above. I hope you enjoyed my article! Feel free to ask any questions and I’ll try and answer =) You can find my full Aurora stream here
All photographic images and written content are copyright protected and are the property of Natalia Robba. If you’d like to order some prints, use my photographs, or republish my written content, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to request permission.
This posts been a long time coming! Can’t believe it’s taken me this long to write up. I curse the rat race *waves fist in the air defiantly*!
Back in February of 2012, I travelled up to Abisko in the far north of Sweden. It’s a beautiful little town up in the Arctic circle, with breathtaking scenery, mountains and frozen lakes as far as the eye can see, and then nestled in this small off the beaten path town of Abisko, the lovely welcoming Abisko Mountain Lodge. My home for the next 6 days =)
Can’t say enough good things about the place, the atmosphere was warm and welcoming, the food simply out of this world, and of course the friendly resident Bernese mountain dogs (whom I shall miss seeing every afternoon) are there to greet you when you arrive. I really couldn’t have found myself a more perfect base for my Aurora hunting…great food, stunning surroundings a few footsteps away, and of course the prospect of Aurora Borealis displays right outside the lodge. The owners Mina and Dick we’re always very helpful and really were wonderful hosts.
For someone who has hunted the Aurora on countless occasions, I can’t say how fantastic it is to be able to simply step outside at a moments notice, with no light pollution whatsoever, to see the Aurora. I’ve got to say, you’re a little more dependent on some good luck for clear skies, but it beats driving around in a car looking for dark spots and it certainly extends the amount of time where you could potentially be viewing the Aurora since you could literally step outside your room at 3am at a moments notice to see Auroras above!
In terms of my Aurora viewing prospects, things looked rather bleak initially. I’d been monitoring our Sun for sunspots for the weeks preceding this trip, and wasn’t too happy with the activity levels! There were no significant incoming CME’s (Coronal Mass Ejections). Fortunately, the Solar Wind was consistent and strong, and coupled with several occurrences of a southward Bz tilt, we were blessed with several nights of Aurora displays, one of which was a real whopper!!
Aurora Borealis above Abisko Mountain Lodge
I have seen fantastic displays that lasted longer than this, but what we were lucky enough to see was just as beautiful in terms of colour and vibrancy. Green bands pulsated and danced in curtain formations across the sky, and then violets and blues appeared overhead in coronas so immense and violent you wanted nothing more than to slow down time so as not to miss a single detail! What made the whole thing even more breathtaking was the Aurora’s seemingly intuitive dancing away from the incoming ominous clouds, as if such a grand force of nature had any sense of awareness or compassion for the insignificant beings beneath her cheering her on! It was just spectacular A night I shall never forget…
So I came to the end of my wonderful stay at Abisko, and amazingly I had another 5 days to go! From Abisko in Sweden, I flew over to Ivalo in Finland to meet up with Andy Keen from Aurora Hunters where I was to help out with Northern Lights tours for 5 days.
On arriving at Ivalo airport, there was already an Aurora band directly overhead which was a great start and was certainly very promising for the days ahead.
I stayed at the Hotel Ivallo, which by the way was a lovely place! It’s a no frills hotel, but rooms are clean, perfectly adequate and the food was pretty decent too!
The setting itself was just perfect, with a frozen river directly behind the hotel providing a perfect setting for afternoon walks…and as I’ll explain shortly…Aurora viewing!
The Northern Lights over Ivalo, Finland
The next night was a little quiet and although we waited and waited, the Aurora did not make an appearance. Although there was an incident a bag of nuts and raisins and a certain messy vegetarian leaving her mark on our means of transportation, providing much more entertainment than would be considered normal in such situations!
Anyways, there was news of an incoming M class solar flare so we were hopeful for some activity the following night and we were treated to some lovely Auroras on a bridge over the Paatsjoki River in the Nellim region. It carried on for over 2 hours after which the clouds rolled in and the Aurora began to diminish, once again it was as if she decided to dwindle away into the peaceful night as soon as the clouds arrived =) I got some of my best photos on that bridge so thank you again Andy!
My last night there was initially just supposed to be a day of rest, packing, and organising myself for my travels back home the next day. However I’d been monitoring solarham.com throughout the day and it looked promising for some more activity that night. My plan was just to find a nice dark spot close to the hotel as I had no transportation. Little did I know people we’re already using the frozen river directly behind the hotel for Aurora viewing and it was fantastic!
Aurora Borealis over Hotel Ivalo, Finland
The light from the hotel was negligable and even the full moon couldn’t compete with the Aurora that night. It wasn’t a long display but was full of sporafic outbursts of intenses Auroras. What was amazing was how friendly and sociable everyone became with complete strangers, most of whom were jumping around with joy, or laughing, or on the verge of tears even!
I can’t think of a better way to have ended that trip I left the next morning extremely happy at what I’d seen over the preceding 2 weeks.
It’ll be hard to top that’s for sure! I’m heading back to Abisko at the end of February 2013 as there seemed to be more to explore there! We shall see 😀 My aim there is to produce a time lapse movie that is as faithful to the Aurora’s beauty as possible.
Day 1 Malaga – Stockholm aka The Descent into Hell
Airport stops are traditionally boring affairs, but this ones already provided us with some highlights. Security is normally the bane of everyones existence. we all know you’re not allowed numerous innocuous objects onboard lest you were to attempt to hijack an entire aircraft with the power of your mighty mascara tube. IMagine the giggle we got out of the tattoed lady in front of us who saw fit to try and go through with a fully fledged dagger in her bag…”oh is that not allowed then”?…err, no love, I think you’ll find it is probably a sticking point, no pun intended.
A brief comfort stop at a hideously overpriced cafe ensued while we waited to pile ourselves sardine style into our tin can. A couple of drinks, coffees, and pan inis…£40, yea that seems reasonable mate, nothing like starting off the day with a coffee and an ass rape, cheers for that. Speaking of the panini…unless your palette savours the taste of sweaty arab armpit, I would avoid the so called humous filling. Next time ill go to a gym, ask someone to please allow me to give their hairy armpit a good seeing to and save myself the 5 euros.
Onto my favourite part. …the aircraft. Oh the joys of sharing confined space with a bunch of coughing strangers! Here’s my thought of the day folks…on a short flight one MUST choose between the views or the toilet..yep, it’s that simple. If you opt for the views you should show your fellow travellers some courtesy and dehydrate yourself so you don’t bother people with your need to pee…you can’t have it both ways!! There i said it. If you ask me to get up to make way for your bladder expect a big massive…Doooooooooh!!! Yes, live with it, window hogger!!!!!.
After a day in Milford sound, we headed east to Dunedin for a couple of days. Highlight was the beach horse trek we took. It had been a good 12 months since I’d ridden a horse, and for Sab it was her first time Views were amazing and the ride was great.
From Abel Tasman we made our way south towards Fox Glacier, which is a town just past Franz Josef. It literally is just a small tourist town with a population of about 300 and more hotels than you could shake a stick at. Still, as has become the norm here, the scenery was just stunning, with the endless, lakes, trees and snow capped mountains. We took the opportunity here to do the coolest thing we’ve done all trip – a helicopter ride!. Admittedly, the view from the front of the helicopter was a bit scary at first, but once we got used to it it really was amazing. We got really cool views of Fox Glacier and Franz Josef from the air and then landed atop a snow capped Mt Cook. Definitely a once in a lifetime experience
I’ll be blunt – to say that we disliked Rarotonga would be an understatement. Let us put aside for a moment the fact that we got picked up from the airport in what could only be described as a PWD jeep which they saw fit to squeeze 10ppl into + bags (“oh just sit on top of the bags and tuck your feet in” was the response given by our oh so chilled out driver when some poor hapless soul voiced her concerns at the packed sardine situation at hand). No that was not the worst part folks, the highlights had to be getting unceremoniously kicked out of said jeep and told to move to another vehicle (ah a bit of efficiency we foolishly thought), only to be told by our ahem..driver that we needed to wait for her son to turn up, before she coolly proceeded back to her toll booth where she was currently on shift at. After an agonising 15 minute wait in her mercillesly unconditioned crapathon of a car, we politely enquired when we’d be making a move only to be told that her son was working at the airport and we had to wait for the next flight to depart before he’d grace us with his presence. We thought she might be joking..she was not. After a 13hr flight and a bout of jet lag from hell in tropical heat, we were not particularly amused.
Still, we kept our spirits up and hoped for better things once we got to our accomodation. We were, it turned out, optimistic to the point of foolishness. It turned out the so called fan in the room was slower than 90year olds at a shag marathon, the one ‘supermarket; contained a couple of nameless cans with armies of marching ants crawling over them and our room appeared to be a haven for a colony of fleas/bed bugs that had decided to take residence on our beds. The veritable feast they had with our legs is a memory best left surpressed. To summise, we were supposed to stay there a week but that very afternoon we changed our flights and took the 1am flight out to NZ.
It provided some useful lessons though…2 things we learned about ourselves in Rarotonga:-
1/ We are definitley cold climate people. The snow suits us just fine thanks very much. There is no enjoyment to be had in the sort of heat that feels like someones blowing a hairdryer in your face.
2/ We must reluctantly admit to being ‘posh backpackers’. Some people may find a perverse sense of adventure from eating bark, wiping their asses with leaves in the woods and sleeping amongst all sorts of furless, six legged creatures. We are not those people :). I practically kissed the floor pope style when we landed in Auckland..ah the sweet smell of roast dinners and air conditioning..bliss
After a few restful and itchy days in Auckland (the bed bug/flea bites were still healing you see) we made our way north to the Bay of islands and then down to Rotorua, Taupo and Wellington via a few tongue-twister towns dotted along the way. Highlights so far are definitely the beautiful scenery on our drive from the North to the South (you can tell why they filmed the lord of the rings here..its all very middle earth), our swoop in Rotorua (youre placed in a kangaroo puch, lifted onto a crane and then dropped down in a big swing motion), the stinky as hell pohutu geyser and New Zealands largest pillow :).
We arrived in the South island yesterday via the interislander ferry from Wellington to Picton. So starts the great south island adventure, which everyone agrees is the more scenic part of the country. We shall see. Updates to follow soon.
San Francisco was our last major stop on our US road trip. From there on, we needed to head back down to LA for our flight to Rarotonga, but as it was a very long drive we decided to break it up a bit and spend two nights along some of the seaside towns peppered around the west coast highway.
Our first stop was in the town of Santa Cruz. We picked this place in particular because we had read its known as the surfing capital of California and as such would probably have a very laid-back vibe, which it definitely did. Everyone and their dog seemed to own a surf board there, and no-one appeared to be either at work or in school judging by thr number of people in wetsuits walking along the main surf spots :)…definitley a vibe we could relate to..lol. It was very much a seaside resort, with wooden rollercoasters on the beach and the famous ‘boardwalk’ right by our motel. In all we spent a very relaxed day, just watching the surfers from the clifftop and walking along the miles and miles of beach right on our doorstep…a very nice break from all that driving
Next, we headed off along the Big Sur Highway towards our second stop, Cambria. It would have been a shorter drive to take the main highway, but we’d heard so much about the beauty of the big sur that we decided to take the longer route instead. The drive was all cliff edges and rocky sea..all very dramatic as we expected :). Cambria was just a convenient stop on our way to LA really, and was just another typical beachside resort, but it did give us the chance to see a large colony of elephant seals that congregate their every year around this time. At first we thought they were just rocks as they really were just, well….plonked to be honest. Inactive though they were, it was quite cool to get so close to them in their natural habitat. We also got a chance to see a very cool sunset that evening and were lucky enough to be walking along the beach at the time with our camera gear, so we captured a few shots while we were there.
So concluded our time in the USA. Off to Rarotonga we headed. Updates to follow shortly
After a few uneventful days in Lake Tahoe (its the sort of place thats probably really pretty in the winter, but looked a bit dreary in miserable autumn weather), we headed down to San Francisco.
The drive over the Bay and Golden Gate bridges were obviously a highlight. As was the afternoon we spent at Crissy Field beach, with its cool views of the bridge in the background. A visit to Fishermans Wharf which leads to the Pier overlooking Alcatraz was obviously a must, and it was fun watching the famous san francisco trolleys roll up and down the hills
It was deifintely a fun few days. We really liked the mix of cosmopolitan city and chilled out beach culture there. Oh, we should mention that anyone planning a trip there should definitely take time out to have breakfast at the ‘Pork store cafe’ on Haight Street. It was the most yummy meal we’ve had all trip, and you’d never have guessed it from the look of the place :). Its one of those hole in the wall, well kept secrets thats definitely worth a visit. Im still dreaming of the chorizo/egg/hash brown/chilli meat/cheese combo and mega omelette we ordered…mmmmmmmmmmmm
After a few days battling the crowds in Vegas, we were looking forward to the tranquility and open space in Yosemite. Well, that and the fact that this had been earmarked as the ‘luxury’ stay of the trip. By that i mean we planned on staying somewhere that didnt require the nightly roach inspection before going to bed :). We actually went all ‘mothernaturely’ and booked a really nice log cabin in the woods for our stay (pics below). It really was brochure pretty..we even had our own resident squirrels chasing each other on the trees outside.
The park itself really was as impressive as we expected. As soon as we drove in it was all lakes, forests and animals running around in the wild. We even managed to get quite close to a small wolf that was wandering the forest around where we’d set up our cameras :). The one thing we werent expecting though was the sheer size of it. It took us 3hrs to drive from the North entrance to the South entrance where our accomodation was…MASSIVE is the word.
The one very entertaining highlight was the snow storm that randomly came upon us on the way out of the mountain range to Lake Tahoe. It had been relatively chilly there, but also pretty clear, so off we confidently went in our summer gear. Imagine our horror when it suddenly dropped to below freezing temperatures and we had to stop to refuel. The open toed shoes really say it all :):). As hilarious as Nat found it all, i should mention that she was sitting in the car in a mini skirt and flip flops!. Needless to say, we got some very bemused looks.
After our short stay in the Grand Canyon, we made our way North for a few days of hedonism in Las Vegas :). The first thing we noticed was that the city seemed to be the most randomly placed thing in the world. You basically drive through pretty desolate landscape on the way there and then this theme park just appears in front of you. It was quite funny really…like someone just decided one day that it would be fun to plonk this festival of lights and sound in the middle of the desert and call it a city.
Our hotel was called the ‘Excalibur’ and true to its name, was shaped like an old medieval castle (next to the rollercoaster and the sphinx shaped hotel next door..one wonders what King Arthur would have thought of that? ). Once inside, the only thing slightly medieval about it was that they referred to the shopping areas as ‘ye olde shoppe’ and so forth. The rest was one big casino/bar/shopping district which was definitely something we’d never seen inside a hotel before.
Incredibly tacky as the whole thing undoubtedly was, we couldnt help but be seduced by the sheer dumb fun of it all and we promptly joined in by going to the tournament of Kings show (video below) and betting our meagre funds at the casino :). Good news here..we sat down for 10mins at the slot machine, bet $40 and walked away with $300! :):) . im sure that for seasoned gamblers that is a pathetic pitance, but for a couple of pizza reheating, hotel shower gel pinching backpackers, we had hit the jackpot baby !!. A few nice steak dinners were definitely to follow
After our brief but entertaining stay in Vegas, we headed off to Yosemite via Death Valley National Park. The landscape was pretty uninspiring to be honest. We read somewhere that the hottest ever temperature on earth was recorded here, and after driving through the place we definitely believe it. They recommend switching off the air-con to avoid over-heating the car but it proved an impossibility. We are now convinced the place is built over hell..nothing else explains it :). We only managed to leave the car for about 5 mins to take a few pics (included below) and carried on towards the much cooler Yosemite…bliss
A few pics of our day out at the Grand Canyon. Yes, it is as spectacular as everyone says..your eye literally can’t see the end of it. We weren’t too lucky with the weather, but we still managed to get some nice pics.
After a few pretty slow days in Los Angeles (we don’t really recommend it unless you’re the sort of sad bastard who gets their kicks from standing on street corners hoping to catch a glimpse of Paris Hilton) we headed off to Yucca Valley for our visit to Joshua Tree National Park.
As soon as we left the city and started getting near the town of Joshua, the landscape changed dramatically. It really felt like we’d been transported back into the Wild West. Walking around the town itself was hilarious. The people appeared nice enough but they seemed to have been plucked straight out of the Jerry Springer show. The place was wall to wall pick-up trucks and women sporting the sort of mega mullets that should have been outlawed at the end of the 80’s :).
The Park itself was extremely interesting and picturesque, especially at sunset. A word or warning to anyone considering a visit though…make sure your sunblock is SPF ‘the fires of hell’. For those of you who think you have experienced extreme heat in the Mediterranean, think again. You won’t have felt heat as God truly intended it until you’ve spent a day in the desert. Even our travel buddy Willeh Mcshmock changed from his trademark hoodie and kilt into the much cooler pink vest top and makeshift kilt hat to protect himself from the bastard sun while we took our photos The park was definitely a great experience, but we were baffled as to how the hicks managed to live here all year round…the place is drier than Ghandi’s flip flops.
We are currently on the road making the250+ mile trip to Arizona for our visit to the Grand Canyon :). Below are pics of our day out in Joshua and a short road trip video. As an extra treat for you lucky, lucky people i provide you with a morsel of my beautiful, haunting singing voice in the video. Don’t bother leaving messages about how you could hardly write for the goose bumps and how i should pick up my application form for the x-factor on the way back. The feast your eardrums will receive is reward enough
*Credit for Willeh McSchmok’s super sexy outfits goes to Mama Fernandez
After a short break in NYC, we made our way to San Diego for the start of the great California road trip :). The first thing to note is that it’s BLOODY hot here (those of you in rainy, cold climates are probably cursing us now for moaning about it). For some reason we didn’t think to bring any sunblock and as a result, after 2 days here Nats now looks like a strawberry vanilla ice-cream..LOL.
San Diego appears to be the capital of mindless fun (which suits us just fine), so off to the Zoo and Seaworld we went :). One of the highlights had to be our Penguin Encounter tour which allowed us to meet our new friend Happy Feet and go into the Penguin Enclosure (videos of us meeting our new Penguin buddy below ). The best bits though were the Dolphin and Shamu shows. As you would expect, it was HEAVY on the cheese factor what with the constant “oh my gaaaawwwd” , “good jooob” and the pulling annoying brats out of the audience for mindless banter. But, the animals were incredibly cute so it more than made up for the cheesiness of it all and we ended up having a whole load of fun :).
We also made time for some very Yank traditions which included a visit to the San Diego Chargers (an American football team) stadium and a lunch stop at a local Diner next to a Studio Lot (where they apparently film a TV show called Veronica Mars) where we had some very yummy MeatLoaf.
Photos and videos of our exploits below.
Tomorrow we leave San Diego and drive up to Los Angeles where we’ll spend a day at Six Flags riding some of the biggest Rollercoasters in the world and take a stroll around the Hollywood Walk of Fame
What was supposed to be very boring drive back to New York ended up providing a whole load of unnecessary drama.As we were heading down the highway from Buffalo, we were pulled over by the State Police.We initially thought we would just get a fine and possibly a warning so imagine our surprise when the Officer actually told Nats, and i quote, “you’re going to jail today, you’re under arrest for speeding “(before both sets of parents freak out, we were only going about 10mph over the limit!)”. For a moment we thought (more like hoped) he might be joking despite the fact he looked like a miserable sod and had a face like a slapped arse.He was not. We were told to wait in the car where we proceeded to shit our pants, count the money we had on us for bail and prepare the opening statement for our inevitable stint on Judge Judy.By a stroke of absolute bullshit luck, he told us the judge wasn’t available to sign our arrest warrants gave us a citiation and told us to go on our merry way
Everyone planning a trip to America take note. If you’re a serial killer or ass rapist you will likely happily walk around the States until the end of time unnoticed by all law enforcement. If however, you decide to go over the ridiculous snail-paced speed limit by 10mph, you will be unceremoniously thrown in jail by a big meanie in an extraordinarily silly hat. For that we say a big MEH to the NY State Police!.
On a completely random note, on the road back from New Jersey we came across an exit leading to the town of ‘Buttzville’. Three questions spring to mind – a) Is the person who named it taking the piss? B) who on earth would invest in real estate there? And c) are we to refer to the unfortunate inhabitants as ‘Buttzvillers’? . Things to ponder.
Anyway, back to NY we go for a 4 day break before our flight to San Diego on Wednesday.
After an extremely comfy plane ride from Heathrow to New York on a half empty plane, we finally arrived in the Big Apple. Even though we still weren’t over the jet-lag, we thought it would be a good idea (because we love a challenge and are a bit stupid sometimes ) to embark the following morning on a 500mile drive up to Toronto. Getting out of NY in nightmare traffic was an interesting experience. We got lost in Brooklyn and ended up in Long Island even though we were looking for New Jersey. After driving for about 1hour we realised we were heading South instead of North and ended up having to turn around and head back to NY to get on the right highway. The drive was pretty boring for the most part….500miles of tree after tree pretty much sums it up. After 7hrs, a very questionnable hotdog at a roadside Cafe and an unfortunate encounter with the ugliest and rudest woman on earth at a toll road in Buffalo (understandable really considering she lives in Shitsville Buffalo and works in a toll booth), we finally made it past the Canadian Border into Ontario
For those of you wondering why i’m dressed up like a giant cockroach, it so happens that Nats has an abnormal fear of them so i thought it would be a good idea to buy a suit and terrorise her She was not amused..lol