It is that time of year again. Or better said, it is that time of 11 years again. This winter marks the solar maximum, at which solar activity is at the highest point in its 11-year cycle. The astrophysics behind this phenomenum is very interesting, but the effects of solar activity here on Earth are much more interesting. At Solar Max the display of Aurora Borealis and Aurora Australis around the Arctic Circles is at its most spectacular. This magical aerial show is on many people’s bucket list, so last year I organized a special Aurora hunting trip for my social media followers, better known as #AuroraTweetup.
The best chances to see Aurora Borealis, the Northern Lights, is around solar maximum not too far from the Arctic Circle. Many people don’t realize that if you go too far north, you will not see the Northern Lights. The Aurora moves around the polar areas of the planet in an oval shape, the so-called Aurora Oval. This oval more or less coincides with the Arctic Circle, so any destination within a few hundred kilometers of the Arctic Circle is best. Second condition is the weather. Clouds are the biggest risk factor for Aurora trips, so you have to select a destination with cold, stable winters. In an attempt to stay away from the Atlantic weather systems, I prefer to go to the Arctic taigas of Northern Finland. One of my favorite spots is the Wilderness Hotel in the small town of Nellim, located at the Finnish-Russian border, at 250 kilometers north of the Arctic Circle.
Ivalo is the northernmost airport of Finland and the gateway to many Arctic winter activities. Finnair and Norwegian have scheduled flights to this airport. Most passengers will visit the holiday resort of Saariselkä, half an hour south of here. Nellim is about an hour northeast.
The Wilderness Hotel is located as its name suggests. The hotel offers all comfort and is the local center for Arctic activities. Its staff knows everything you need to know about the Arctic and some of the tour guides are true Aurora experts. The perfect starting point for an Aurora hunt.
During the Arctic winter the sun doesn’t come up at all for a few weeks. Our trip in early February has 8 hours of daylight, but the sun never rises higher than this from the horizon.
The first evening we see our first faint Aurora over Lake Inari. The night is clear and the temperature drops to -30C. If you don’t have good clothes, the hotel rents out the right equipment for you.
The second night we see Aurora over the roofs of the hotel buildings. To best see the Northern Lights at this destination, the hotel owner has negotiated that street lights in the entire village turn off at 23:00 hours.
The hotel is about 200 meters from Finland’s largest lake, Lake Inari. During the second evening we see great Aurora displays to the North over the lake.
The wilderness around the hotel is great for winter sports like cross country skiing and snowshoeing. There are marked trails around the many small lakes between the Boreal Forest.
Husky dog sledding is another great outdoor activity. Next to the hotel there is a dog pen. Before hitting the trails we get detailed instructions. Do not let go of the sled. The dogs will leave without you without a chance of ever catching up again!
After instructions we leave the hotel in pairs. One in the sleigh, the other person driving. This is a fast sport! Halfway the guide makes hot berry juice and grills sausages over a fire. A highly recommended adventure!
The third night is clouded, but we see the green shine of the Aurora through the thin clouds. A great evening for some light-trick photography on the small lake behind the hotel.
The last evening our guide takes us to ‘Aurora Camp’ on a small island in Lake Inari, by snowmobile. Light pollution is zero at this remote spot, 15 kilometers from the hotel. Aurora is at its best this evening!
None of the Aurora displays is alike. How many shades of green can you see? And even some shades of red if you look very well. We stay at this magical spot for several hours.
In order to stay warm there is a small lavvu-cabin at this spot, where the fire is warm and we can make hot drinks.
Making photos of Aurora is not simple. You need a tripod and a camera that can take 10 to 30 second exposures. The hotel guides are expert Aurora photographers, so they help you make shots like these! In our group we had many professional photographers, leading to many great pictures, much better than mine that you are seeing here.
A little light to light out the foreground is a good idea when photographing Aurora in a winter landscape.
The Aurora remains visible most of the night. During this trip we spend two almost entire nights outside and sleep out in the morning. We are here to see the Northern Lights after all!
And if the Aurora is not visible due to clouds (like on our third night), you can make your own Aurora over the snowmobiles on the lake… (photo: Martin Stojanovski)
In 2015 I will again organize Aurora trips in this area. Follow www.auroratweetup.com for more infomation on these upcoming adventures.