One of these questions found an answer very recently (on June 7, 2021), thanks to the work of physicists from UCLA, Wheaton College, the University of Iowa and the Space Science Institute!
What is the Aurora?
The temperature in the Sun’s core is huge (like millions of degrees Celsius). At this temperature, a nuclear fusion reaction of hydrogen occurs. As a result, electrically charged particles (electrons and protons) are thrown out from the Sun’s atmosphere and they escape into space and, at some point, they reach Earth and they interact with Earth’s magnetic field (called magnetosphere), creating a so-called disturbance in the magnetosphere. The electrons from the solar wind then accelerate along the magnetic field lines and then collide with the gases that make up Earth’s atmosphere (mostly oxygen and nitrogen). These collisions determine the emission of visible light. It is this visible light what we call the Aurora Borealis or the Northern Lights.
The mystery – until a few days ago – was that it was not well understood how the acceleration of electrons along the magnetic field lines occurs.
But the mystery is now solved! After creating, with the help of special scientific equipment, the same conditions just like those in Earth’s magnetosphere, the research team concluded that the acceleration happens due to the fact that the electrons “surf” along the electric field of a wave (in this case a so-called Alfvén wave, see what this is below), which transfers the energy of the wave to the accelerated particles, through a process called Landau damping.
Put it simply and without fancy words, as one of the researchers that took part in this study said, “measurements revealed (that the) electrons undergo (…) acceleration by the Alfvén wave’s electric field, similar to a surfer catching a wave and being continually accelerated as the surfer moves along with the wave”.
Alfvén waves are launched along the magnetic field lines, towards our planet, at the moment of magnetic reconnection, which is a violent process when two magnetic field lines couple together (which happens during a geomagnetic storm for example). Electrons from the solar wind, which are ‘trapped’ in the magnetic field line, “surf” along the field line, being accelerated by this Alfvén wave.
The science behind the Aurora
In this article is presented only a very small part of the Aurora science.
Now you have the chance to completely understand this magnificent phenomenon, starting from beginner level! I designed for Aurora Labs the Learn the Aurora workshop (either the online version, or the workshop we can do together here in Vadsø) where you can learn, through simple experiments and explanations (suitable even for the non-scientists!), the complete science behind the Northern Lights!
So, be sure to take part in my online workshop now, during summer, and be prepared to see (and understand) this beautiful phenomenon next winter!
…Oh, and did you know Aurora Labs can even certify you as an expert in Northern Lights? 😉
I am proud to present you the brand-new Aurora Forecast 5.0 app with its new features, that I have designed for Aurora Labs! Now it’s possible to choose a location or to even geolocalise yourself, in order to find out the current weather and auroral conditions in your area and to determine if it’s possible to see the Aurora! Now it’s very easy and fun to see if you should go out (or not) to hunt the Northern Lights, thanks to the colour coded tiles in the app! And no, you don’t need to know what is Bz, Kp, Bt, …
All the necessary data for forecasting and preparing your next Northern Light hunt – handy, in one single place, in this new app from Aurora Labs! Absolutely free and no ads!
Aurora forecast for the next few minutes for both Northern and Southern hemispheres, live Kp and solar wind data, 3 days Kp forecast, live Sun images and current and scheduled cloud coverage for the next few hours in multiple regions!
Don’t miss the magnificent Northern Lights when you’re out and about here in the Arctic! Hunt the Northern Lights professionally!
Have you been dreaming about visiting the Arctic? You know, that location where most – if not all – of your childhood winter fairy tales take place? Right now it is more accessible than ever for you to visit, and you have the chance to create your own stories from this fairyland! But the Arctic is huge – there is a ton of destinations to choose from!
In this article we’re going to talk about a charming, remote Arctic place, well off the beaten track, with a world of attractions just waiting to be discovered! I’m talking about Vadsø – a beautiful Arctic town in the Eastern Finnmark region of Northern Norway – a place where life follows the typical rhythm of the Great North! So why choose Vadsø as your next Arctic destination? Here are the top reasons:
1As already mentioned, it’s a remote place, well off the beaten track, and unless you come here because your family or friends recommended you to do so, you can be pretty sure that nobody among the people you know have previously been here! And despite the remoteness of Vadsø, it is actually pretty easy to arrive here by plane, by boat or even by car (see here how).
And not only that it’s easy to reach us – but no matter what transport means you choose, you’re in for a typical regional experience: the small Widerøe planes work like buses, with stops in-between, where you don’t need to get off the aircraft! Or, coming here by boat, means you will enjoy one of the most sought after Norwegian experiences – the Hurtigruten boat trips! And if you come by car, you will drive along one of Norway’s National Scenic Routes – the National Tourist Route of Varanger! And the cherry on the cake – any transport you choose, it is very probable that you’ll be doing it under the Northern Lights if you visit us in winter!
3Vadsø is located in the beautiful region of Varanger – which is a historically and culturally rich region, as it lies at a Russian, Finnish, Sami and Norwegian crossroads, just like all of Lapland. You can enjoy here stories and visit places dedicated to the Vikings or to the Second World War. You can live the legends of the Sami people, who live close to nature and are actively involved in reindeer herding and who try to protect their fascinating traditions! Or you can hear stories about trolls and witches, as well as see with your own eyes remains as old as the Stone Age! Hint: take a look at Aurora Labs’ road trips!
4The climate in Vadsø is milder, as the European tail of the Gulf Stream protects the town of extreme winters, and you can enjoy Arctic activities in a much more weather-friendly environment! At the same time, don’t worry: the rough Arctic climate with extreme cold, is within just a few minutes of driving from here; so, if you’d like, you *can* get to know what that’s like, during a short road-trip towards the East or West of Vadsø!
A consequence of the warm ocean current that passes through the Varanger Fjord and Barents Sea, makes Vadsø a unique place, where two typical Nordic vegetation types meet: the boreal forest and the Arctic tundra. Again, in a matter of just a few minutes of driving, you can transit from dense birch forests to the vast tundra, where the trees finish (and no, there is no error in this sentence!)
5There are lots of activities to enjoy here, in any season: Northern Lights activities and safaris, snow mobile safaris, dog sledding activities, skiing, fishing, nature walks in all seasons, summer Aurora experiences, scientific activities and workshops, road trips, sightseeing, the Midnight Sun, photography… just to name a few!
As for the nature lovers, you will be amazed by sights of the Arctic tundra in both summer and winter, or by the vast, contrasting landscapes along the Varanger Fjord! Or, during the cold season, frozen rivers or the Arctic winter’s frost are a must-see! And of course, each season’s natural phenomena are a breathtaking and impressive experience: the Northern Lights or the Light Pillars in winter and the soothing Midnight Sun in summer!
6Vadsø is located on the 70°N parallel; and because of Earth’s tilt with respect to the Sun, this location benefits of a perfect yearly balance between the Polar Night and Polar Day: not too little and not too much at the same time, but enough for you to get to experience what this is like! During the Polar Day period, you can enjoy the beautiful Midnight Sun, which lights up the sky even during the night! As for the Polar Nights, when the Sun never rises for almost 2 months, you can enjoy the magnificent Polar Blue and beautifully coloured skies during the “daytime”, and the chance to maybe even see the rare daytime Aurora!
7Local cuisine! You can have a taste of the delicious king crab, or reindeer meat or fish! And speaking about fish – don’t hesitate to try lutefisk (which is fish with, err… poison!). If you’re here around Christmas, do taste Julebrus (which literally translates to “Christmas soda”). And don’t be afraid of the typical Norwegian brown cheese (“brunost”)! And for desert – eat “lefse” (any kind!) and I promise you’ll be right back at the shop to buy more! See a few examples of dishes (with a bit more details) by clicking here.
8You’ll almost surely encounter reindeer at least once during your stay here! You can spot them on the roads outside Vadsø, or even on the Vadsøya island, roaming free in the wilderness! They’re a beautiful sight anywhere and anytime, and are excellent models for your photos!
In addition, Vadsø, as like the whole region of Varanger is an awesome place for birdwatchers! Not only that it is a place where an astonishingly lot of bird species can be found, but it is one of the most accessible Arctic birdwatching destinations. Even if this region is well above the Arctic Circle, the winters here are milder than in other regions of the Arctic. This is the reason why some bird species, choose to come here from more northern latitudes for overwintering. (More details here, section “Birdwatching”.)
9For those of you who seek also a bit of “urban” experiences, know that we do have a cinema, a few shops, restaurants, bars and cafés, you can find hairdressers and antique stores… we even have a music festival each summer! Our town may be small, but it offers a big range of possibilities for everyone!
And now the bonus reason! Recall everything you read up to this point: from typical transportation to get here, Northern Lights, historically and culturally rich location, weather-friendly climate with two typical Arctic vegetation zones, Arctic activities, Arctic phenomena, Arctic fauna… And now think that you get to enjoy all of this away from mass tourism! With Aurora Labs you will carry out all the activities in private, so that you’ll have a chance to live the typical Arctic life in your own rhythm. Immerse yourself for a few days into the sea of tranquility, silence and calmness that surrounds this beautiful region and live life at the local rhythm!
Wondering why an article about the Northern Lights? Especially now that, where you are probably reading this article, it’s the middle of summer, with hot temperatures, just right to go for a swim! However – especially if you have been dreaming about seeing the beautiful Aurora – now it’s about time to plan your trip for the coming winter… to the Great North! But where? When? How long? Where is the best place on Earth to see the Northern Lights? I’ll try answering these questions in this article, so keep on reading!
The Northern Lights are a natural phenomenon, and their physical occurrence cannot be guaranteed 100% in a certain place at a certain time. However, with a bit of planning and with the right knowledge, the chances of seeing the Aurora can be increased considerably! We will not discuss here what the Aurora is, I will just tell you what you need to take into account when planning your Northern Lights winter holiday.
Where is the best place on Earth to see the Northern Lights?
The short answer: anywhere where Auroras occur easily, even when the conditions necessary for Auroras to occur, are at a minimum. This place is in fact a “belt”, which encircles Earth’s magnetic North Pole, known as the Kp=0 Auroral Oval. Kp is a measurement, used for quantifying the necessary conditions for Auroras to occur. When Kp is 0, it means that there is very little activity. But, despite this, on this “belt”, Auroras do occur rather easy, and are perfectly visible. This Kp=0 Auroral Oval has a very precise location and people traveling to places on this belt have great chances to see the magnificent dancing lights.
Incidentally, this Kp=0 Auroral Oval passes right through Vadsø in Norway, where Aurora Labs is located! This is thus a great place to choose as destination, if you’d like to have a good chance of seeing the Aurora! This is one of the main reasons why I chose Vadsø as the location where to create Aurora Labs! But there are many other reasons – continue to read to find them out!
Another important point to consider is weather. Clouds can cover the sky entirely, hiding the magical Lights! So you will need a clear sky in order to see the overwhelming Light display. Weather is completely unpredictable, especially when you probably buy your ticket to the Arctic months before your actual travel date.
So, when your travel date comes, you will have to accept the weather “as is”. Here in Vadsø the weather changes quite rapidly: if now you have a heavy, cloudy sky, in just a matter of minutes, you can have a sky clearing, which will actually let you see the Northern Lights, in all their beauty!
The best is to have someone who can predict, on the spot, what weather will be in the coming hour, and where and when a sky clearing might occur. I do just that, so don’t hesitate and book a Hunt the Aurora activity with me, right now! In addition, I interpret the Auroral forecasts as well, and maximize even more the chances of you seeing the beautiful Aurora.
One more important thing about weather is coldness. The Arctic is well known for being a cold region! But can you handle all that coldness during your whole trip to the North? Vadsø is special concerning this point, as well! Being right on the coast of the Varanger Fjord, which opens in the Barents Sea, thus taking advantage of the warm ocean stream, Vadsø is actually warmer than many other places in the Arctic, and this even in the nearby region! Take a look at this temperature map (taken by myself on my phone, on a random date – 28 January 2020):
Due to the warm ocean stream, temperatures on the coast are warmer. So, when not hunting the Aurora, you can enjoy other activities easier, in milder temperatures, which makes them much more pleasant, especially if you’re not used to extreme cold.
You might argue now: yes, but warmer temperatures bring more clouds. That’s true, you have a point there. But just look how close Vadsø is to much colder areas! In a matter of minutes, we can get to a place where there are 20, or even more degrees less, and where clouds are probably less likely to be present! One more point for Vadsø there!
See and Do More
In addition, you would probably like to be able to do and see other stuff at your chosen destination, besides only spotting the Aurora! Vadsø does check this point on the list as well, as you can enjoy here lots of other Arctic activities (such as dog sledding or snowmobile trips), as well as visit extremely beautiful places, rich in history and culture, during fun road-trips! Just have a look on the Aurora Labs website and see for yourself!
And the best if you do come to Vadsø: all of these places are well off the beaten track, far away from mass tourism! So you get to experience everything calmly, at the real Arctic rhythm and style!
If this does appeal to you, get in touch right now! I’ll be glad to help you plan and book your next trip here! And I’d be delighted to welcome you and help you discover this beautiful region!
When is the best time to experience the Aurora?
Experiencing the Aurora means, for most people, seeing it dance in the Arctic winter sky. To do this, of course, you need to come to the Arctic during the winter months, when the sky is dark. If you do choose Vadsø as your destination, you should then plan to come here between end of September and end of March. Anytime during this period, the sky is enough dark in order to permit the Northern Lights to be seen right overhead.
Northern Lights in Summer!
And because the Aurora occurs even in summer, I have found ways to experience the phenomenon even then! With me, you will be able to listen to the Northern Lights or even take a fun and informative workshop, where you can learn about this magnificent phenomenon. And the best part is that you can do these things anytime – even in summer (and now, you can even take the Aurora workshop online, anytime you’d like and from anywhere in the World!)
The 2019-2020 Winter season is coming to an end, as the Midnight Sun progressively makes its presence felt at high Arctic latitudes. That means that sunlight starts to illuminate these regions round the clock and makes the sighting of the Northern Lights difficult or even impossible.
To see the Northern Lights, you need a completely dark sky. During the Polar Day – which is now starting – the Sun shines 24 hours a day, which makes viewing the Northern Lights impossible. However, the Northern Lights are still there – it’s just that you can’t see them!
…But you can hear them! If you do visit me in Vadsø during the summertime, when the Sun is up in the sky even at midnight, you can try hearing the Aurora with me! Check out my original summer activity: Hear the Aurora!
Just come and try, and see for yourself how cool it is to listen to the Northern Lights! And the bonus – there are many other sounds of our Universe which you will hear as well, and we’ll try explaining them together!