The hunt for Northern Lights

If you are in Europe and have gone all the way to Scandinavia, there is no way that Northern Lights cannot be on your agenda.

What is the Northern Lights?

Northern Lights or Aurera Borealis is a natural phenomenon that happens when electrically charged particles from the sun enter into the earth’s atmosphere and collide with our gaseous particles simply put. Aurora Australis is its southern counterpart. A scientific phenomenon that lights up the skies in hues of green, yellow, pink or purple. While the common colour is green or greenish yellow, some rare occurrences of purple have also been spotted.  Oxygen emits yellow, green hues while Nitrogen emits red, purple hues. The earth’s magnetic field channels these solar particles towards the north and south magnetic poles and hence the occurrences are restricted to solely higher altitudes.

Now Aurora is not something you can spot so easily. There have been multiple references of Aurora to a Diva and rightly so, you have to pursue her patiently and wait for her to open up in the skies and take her swirl.

Essentials for its occurrences

  1. Aurora can be best visible only when it is pitch dark – 10 pm to 1 am is said to be the best time to view the Aurora
  2. Clear Skies – The basic necessity for visibility of these colours is clear skies, cloudy weather and rains reduce the impact of the visibility of these charged particles
  3. High Altitude – As the particles are drawn towards the magnetic poles, their spread is limited to places nearby the arctic circle

Best places to catch the northern lights

Well if you are in Europe, Scandinavia is your best bet to view the northern lights. Both Northern Norway and Northern Sweden offer amazing places to catch the Aurora. After a lot of research I would recommend these 2 options

  1. Tromso, Norway
  2. Abisko, Sweden

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Golden Rule

Never go only for the northern lights. Choose a destination where you have something to do and ensure spotting the aurora is just a brownie point over and above that. The weather in the Arctic is very unpredictable and could change in the blink of the eye. So ALWAYS CHOOSE A DESTINATION where you can explore during the day and manage to catch the Aurora as well to avoid disappointment

Why Abisko?

  1. Railway connectivity to Abisko from Stockholm suited our travel schedule
  2. They have a beautiful National Park in Abisko
  3. The weather forecasts showed clear skies in Abisko in the week we chose to hunt the northern lights
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The beautiful view just before sundown in Abisko, Sweden

Where to check for weather forecasts?

We constantly followed the Geophysical Institute of the University of Alaska Fairbanks for the best forecast to view the aurora. They had recommended a chance of 6 on 9 to view the aurora in the week we had planned to travel and it was the highest they had predicted in the entire month of October in 2013. You can view the forecast here before travel.  http://www.gi.alaska.edu/AuroraForecast/NorthPolar/20160909

How to get to Abisko?

The beauty of the Scandinavian countries is the amazing rail connectivity. Abisko is around 1300 kms from Stockholm, however, direct night trains are available from Stockholm to Absiko. There are a couple of stations in Abisko  – Abisko Ostra or Abisko Touristation, so pick your destination depending on your accommodation arrangements

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Places to stay in Absiko

Though the population in Abisko is just around 100 ( Yes, I am not exaggerating, The recorded census of population in Absiko as on 2005 was 85 and there are more dogs there than humans), there are multiple options for accommodation in terms of hostels, hotels & cottages in all price ranges.

We booked our hostels through http://www.abisko.net/

They are on Facebook as well https://www.facebook.com/abisko.net

Amazingly responsive and absolutely friendly. Just about 2 minutes walking from the Ostra station in Abisko and beautiful spots in and around the hostel to view the Aurora.

The much awaited Aurora

After all this planning now comes the worst part, the wait. We reached early evening and settled in into our lovely accommodation provided by abisko.net and went out for a walk to explore the town. The streets were long, cold and empty. The views enthralling, you could see snow capped mountains far away, a completely different kind of vegetation and oh, not to forget snow ledges pulled by dogs. The owners of our property were an elderly couple who had 60 dogs, yes, you read that right, 2 human beings and 60 dogs, that was pretty much the ration in the entire town. It was like the whole town was painted in a blue filter and before you knew, the night was setting in and it was getting pitch dark. We made our way back to our hostels, made some hot noodles and all hostlers gathered around trying to find the best spot to camp for the night.

The beauty of the accommodation is that you can view endless skies from all around the building. We even heard stories of how people caught it sitting on their beds through the windows. So we each picked our spots and sat there just staring at those skies. The first few minutes were lovely looking at the skies, but you need patience. We waited hour after hour in the freezing weather, it was a long wait. Alas, as the night grew it became more and more cloudy and started to snow, and with heavy hearts conceded to ourselves that there  was no chance we would view it. Given our tight schedules, we could not afford extending or modifying our schedule. We had taken our best bet, selecting the perfect place, the perfect day, the perfect time. But, I guess somethings are beyond all the planning when it comes to the Aurora. But we had the best time in the snow in the deserted town of abisko.

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When you are at crossroads in a cold ghost town alone early in the morning
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When you catch the entire rainbow from start to finish

Lessons Learnt

  1. It is not an easy hunt. Plan a long duration to give yourself the best chance to view the northern lights.
  2. It is very very unpredictable. The weather can change at any point in time, so always be prepared for that.
  3. Camp to different places where the Northern Lights can be spotted. Many a time the phenomenon occurs but is not visible in certain areas due to unclear skies or places not being sufficiently dark
  4. Keep your faith up! It will eventually show, at least that’s what I am still hoping
  5. No matter what happens, Do not forget the Golden Rule – Always travel for the destination.

 

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