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Northern lights
Northern lights.
Photo: Alex Conu/Visitnorway.com
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The world's most beautiful light phenomenon is once again dazzling us up in the Norwegian night sky.

Published: September 15 2017

The world's most beautiful light phenomenon is once again dazzling us up in the Norwegian night sky.

Aurora Borealis. The polar light. The phenomenon has several names, but what is common to them all is how the nocturnal colour spectacle in the sky gets nature photographers, hikers, and lucky tourists to humbly shiver for a look.

The season for North Lights is roughly from the end of September and right up until April or May. But this year, it appears that the forces of nature have jumped the gun.  

– Awe-inspiring

Last weekend, the Northern Lights visible over parts of Northern Norway were unusually bright and vivid. NRK reported about the extraordinary conditions for photographers, and the Northern Lights were measured at 8 on the KP scale, which measures the probability of seeing the Northern Lights from 0 to 9.     

"It is one of the most awe-inspiring sights I have ever seen. There were multiple coronas around me at the same time in all possible colours including yellow, purple, orange and green," told hobby photographer Kim Hartviksen NRK, who experienced the show from Tjeldøya in Nordland.

Gusts of solar wind

They are wild and beautiful, the Northern Lights. But, what is actually happening when the lights dance around above us? One of our leading experts on the phenomenon is Pål Brekke, senior advisor, and researcher at the Norwegian Space Centre, who actively works with the Northern Lights through books and films.

"The Northern Lights are caused by particles flowing out from the sun and impacting the Earth's magnetic field. Some of these particles are captured by the Earth's magnetic field and pulled down towards the poles where they collide with the atmosphere and create the magic of the Northern Lights. We call this flow of particles solar wind.

He elaborates:

"Solar eruptions create gusts of solar wind, which causes emanations from the sun to push extra hard on our magnetic field. This results in unusually much and quite intense Northern Lights, while at the same time pushing the Northern Lights zone further to the south so that Southern Norway also gets to experience them.

See the northern lights phenomenon explained visually in a clip from the award-winning documentary, "Northern Lights - A Magic Experience” by Pål Brekke and Fredrik Broms:


Predicts a good season for Northern Lights

Pål Brekke says that the recent period of powerful eruptions is of a random character.   

"There was a very powerful solar storm which a few days later pushed particularly much on the Earth's magnetic field causing spectacular Northern Lights over Norway. The Northern lights were also visible down in Europe and the southern states in the United States. It is the activity on the sun that determines the Northern Lights activity.

Nevertheless, the former NASA astrophysicist has seen a tendency that will delight all eager observers:  

"There have been very intense Northern Lights during recent years. This year's season should also be good.

To see the most impressive lights, however, it is necessary to head north," points out Pål Brekke.  

"Basically, you have the greatest chance of seeing the Northern lights the farther north in the country you travel. On calm Northern Lights nights, the Northern Lights zone — or Northern Lights oval, as we call it - is just north of the North Cape and up towards Svalbard. So, far to the north, one should be able to see the Northern Lights on every clear night. When the Northern Lights become more active, they move down south and are often over Tromsø. This results in more movement, colours, and structures in the Northern Lights.

All the way down to the Equator

Although the Northern Lights are a specifically Nordic phenomenon, they can be experienced as far south as Spain and Italy. And it was a famous Italian who coined the term "aurora borealis" already in 1619.

"It was, in fact, the Italian scientist Galileo who first used the term aurora borealis, which can be translated as "dawn in the north". The reason being that Galileo only saw the top part of the Northern Lights above the mountains in Italy, and only the red part of it. He never got to see the green light - as then he would surely have given the Northern Lights a completely different name," says Brekke and adds a fun fact:  

"After the rare super solar storm in 1859, the Northern Lights were visible all the way down to the Equator."

– The Earth's own neon lights

Certain conditions must exist in order to experience the Northern Lights at its most spectacular, according to solar researcher Brekke.  

"The most important thing is to get away from city lights and other strong light sources that will cause the sky to be greyish. Find a dark location with a view toward the north. If you want to take pictures, it is essential to bring along a tripod because you must use long exposure times to capture the faint light of the Northern Lights. Typically, long exposures of five to 20 seconds are common."

Pål Brekke ultimately recommends to sit back, relax and just take in this natural wonder fully.

"Remember to enjoy this great light phenomenon - the Earth's own neon lights. And ponder that the source of the Northern Lights - the Sun - is 150 million kilometres away.



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