When is the best time to see the Northern Lights?
In my opinion, autumn is one of the best times to hunt for the Northern Lights.
There, I’ve said it. In terms of scientific reasoning, I am firmly of the belief that September and October consistently yield some of the best results in the Aurora calendar. It’s actually quite frustrating because most people don’t even consider an autumn holiday when planning their Northern Lights adventure. Hopefully, I can persuade them to think again.
There are many reasons why autumn is a fantastic season to head over to the Arctic and search for the Northern Lights but, essentially, there are two main factors which I believe combine to make autumn such a compelling time of year.
The first is the frequency of the geomagnetic storms which cause the Aurora Borealis to appear in our night skies. Having studied 75 years of records, Dr David Hathaway – a Solar Physicist at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center – concluded that geomagnetic disturbances are almost twice as likely to occur in spring and autumn. By definition, therefore, the chances of seeing the Aurora Borealis are higher in spring and autumn.
The second is weather conditions. If there is one thing any Aurora hunter can’t abide, it is cloud cover. Cloud cover is one of the intrinsic problems associated with Aurora hunting; the skies above may be awash with ethereal, dancing light but you won’t see anything but clouds. With this in mind, I looked at various sites across Northern Finland, Sweden, Iceland and Norway and found that, historically, September and October have slightly less cloud cover.
It is not only the science and weather that is compelling though. Autumn also offers a host of outdoor activities exclusive to the season which make the most of the stunning landscapes that are bursting with a kaleidoscope of red, orange and golden foliage.
If I’ve convinced you to travel in September or October, then here are my top five autumn Aurora hunting tips.
- Head North!
Our sun goes through an activity cycle that lasts approximately 11 years, and sees it pass through Solar Maximum (high solar activity) and Solar Minimum (low solar activity). As we enter what is known as Solar Minimum, the explosive activity on the surface of the sun that causes the Aurora to appear as far south as the UK will practically cease. Gentle solar winds are what cause the Northern Lights during Solar Minimum and their impact is only significant in a band just above the Arctic Circle. Hence, while solar activity is subdued, the Aurora Borealis will still make its regular appearances, primarily in Northern Finland, Sweden, Iceland and Norway.
- Location, location, location!
Whilst heading north to search for the Northern Lights is a great start, there is a little more to it. To increase your chances of seeing the Northern Lights, you must be in an area with minimal light pollution. You should aim to head away from towns, cities and ski resorts to the more rural and remote destinations to increase your chances of witnessing Mother Nature’s greatest wonder.
- Use a local Aurora expert as your guide
These guys live and breathe the Northern Lights. They know the weather patterns, they know – as much as anyone can know – about the Aurora’s fickle habits, and they also know the myths and legends that surround the Lights. Most importantly, they know all the best viewing spots. If you’re going in search of the Northern Lights, we strongly suggest being in the company of one of our carefully-picked expert guides.
- Find a remote location next to open water
In winter, most waterways in Northern Scandinavia freeze and are covered in snow. However, in autumn, you have a completely different outlook. The rivers and lakes are still running freely, which means the Northern Lights in the sky are often reflected in the inky black waters below. Not only is it a beautiful spectacle to see, but you also have the privilege of seeing two dancing Auroras for the price of one.
- It’s the Arctic! You still need to wrap up warm!
It may only be autumn, but the winter chill arrives early when you are just above the Arctic Circle. It’s highly unlikely that you’ll need the kind of thermal gear we provide during the winter months, but a flimsy top, shorts and sandals just won’t cut it. Dig out those thermals, because you’ll be out and about late.
By Alistair McLean, Managing Director, The Aurora Zone
Photo credit: Credit Markku Inkila
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