Heavenly lights in the night
Fran Weaver is a freelance journalist who has lived in Finland for many years, but still gets a thrill from the country’s natural wonders. See his tips on Northern Lights hunting.
One cold spring night a few years ago I received a text message from a friend, urging me to go outside and look at the sky. I hurried out into the night and was amazed to see the heavens ablaze with fiery red flares, shimmering crimson curtains of light, bright yellow streaks and pulsating purple patches.
The sight was almost apocalyptical. I realized then that I was fortunate enough to be witnessing an exceptionally awe-inspiring display of the aurora borealis. The ever-changing patterns and colours of this spellbinding light show remained visible for several hours right across Finland.
Ever since that unforgettable experience I’ve kept a keen eye on the night sky on favourable evenings – and often been rewarded with spectacular shows.
Seven tips for aurora chasers
• Go north. Sightings become more common as you head northwards. In northern Lapland the lights shine about every other clear night between September and March, but even in southern Finland they are visible on about 10-20 nights a year.
• Look to the stars. Clouds are the aurora chaser’s curse. If you notice that the night sky is clear and starry, then your chances of seeing the northern lights are also good.
• Go for a long evening or night walk. The longer you are outside, the more likely you are to see the lights. They might unexpectedly appear and just as suddenly vanish any time from just after sunset to just before dawn.
• Wrap up warm. Auroras form so high in the atmosphere that their appearance is not related to temperatures on the ground. But it tends to be very chilly on the clear winter nights when they are most easily seen.
• Darkness is your friend. Get away from bright lights and buildings to get the best possible views of as much of the sky as possible. Hilltops and lakeshores make good vantage points.
• Look north. In central or southern Finland you are more likely to see the lights low down near the northern horizon. In Lapland they could shine anywhere in the sky.
• Sign up for aurora alerts. On the Finnish Meteorological Institute’s informative Auroras Now! website, you can sign up for free e-mail alerts sent whenever magnetic conditions in the skies over Finland make auroral displays likely.
In just a few minutes, you can leave behind the hustle and bustle of a ski resort or a city and arrive in the peace and quiet of the wilderness.