The lights quickly shift from hesitant and hardly visible veils to sparkling cones, seemingly covering the entire heavens. It may be a myth, but many people claim to have also heard the northern lights at the point of its most intense. One thing is for sure — it is a unique experience to witness and a fabulous memory to bring back from the Swedish Lapland. The heavenly light phenomenon, the northern lights or Aurora Borealis, is simply described as the result of the interaction between the solar winds and Earth’s magnetic fields.
Ideally, the best time to view the northern lights is between September and late March, although we have viewed them as early as late-August.
The lights can come at any time when it is dark, but the best times seem to be between 9 pm and 2 am. Another factor is light pollution of every kind, from streetlights to the full moon. And then, the weather can affect viewing the lights. September, October and November have ever increased hours of darkness and the advantage of being snowless in many areas and not yet really cold.
For those dreaming of a dramatic white, snowy background, with the northern lights dancing overhead, December and January are great times to see the lights. The long nights add to the splendour of this experience.
In February and March, the days are longer, and the weather is warmer, yet still very snowy. During the day, you can enjoy the snow-clad landscapes under the strengthening sunshine, yet in the evening, you get the opportunity to spot the northern lights.
Perhaps you have heard that odds to see them are better when it is cold? To back this theory is the fact that in clear weather, it is usually colder since clouds to some extent have an insulating effect. Although the light phenomenon occurs around the clock, it is only visible from Earth when the skies are dark.
While there is no guarantee that you will see the northern lights, your odds increase when you stay for a longer period of time. Get away from streetlights and check your chances online with one of the Aurora Forecast apps or through a website such as Space Weather. Some weeks, you are treated to fantastical displays, repeated several times each evening, for many days in a row. Other times, the clouds and snowfall keep the northern lights away.
Of course, the longer you stay and experience Swedish Lapland, the better the odds of experiencing this incredible sight.
The best chances of witnessing the northern lights are when you find yourself north of the Arctic Circle, at high altitude, preferably in open space without any other sources of light. Abisko National Park in Swedish Lapland offers perhaps some of the best conditions in the world for anyone wishing to witness the northern lights. In addition to its location within the Aurora Oval, Abisko is also usually in the so-called rain shadow. Abisko has one of the lowest rainfall climates in the Nordic area, which means more clear nights for aurora spotting — sometimes more than two weeks of consecutive northern lights nights. But remember, regardless of where you are in the region, a clear winter night gives you every reason to look towards the sky.
The solar winds consist of charged particles thrown out into space from the sun. When the particles are attracted by Earth’s magnetic fields, they are drawn towards the poles at extremely high speed. The aurora appears when the particles collide with atoms in the upper atmosphere whereby the kinetic energy is transformed into visible light. The phenomenon is based on the same principles as a neon light. Two days after the solar wind has been flung into space, it will reach us and make the northern lights possible.
Mostly, here in the north of Sweden, the northern lights we see are bluish-green but sometimes also including veils of red or lilac. The variations in colour depending on the atoms’ type, speed and charge, and also from what distance you are watching. The most intense auroras appear at the height of around 100 km above the ground and are 10-30 km tall. Still, in some cases, they reach up to several hundred kilometres with gradually less intensity.
Our best tip when looking for the northern lights is to be prepared to move around. Snowmobile or car if you’re actually chasing the Aurora. But just to walk around in the area, can increase your chance of viewing the lights. And make sure you dress appropriately. You don’t want to have to go inside just as the show starts only because you’re cold.
When you do finally see the northern lights, you will never forget that moment. Yet beware: once you see them, you want to see them again, and again, and again.