About the Northern Lights

About the Northern Lights

Marvelling at the magnificent Northern Lights

Seeing the Northern Lights, or the Aurora Borealis, first hand is a majestic, almost spiritual, experience that can take the most talkative individual, and simply render them speechless.

Not many life experiences stay with you forever, however, I promise you that this is one that you’ll never forget.

Historically feared and revered in equal measure, science is still yet to completely unravel its mystery – all adding to its mystical appeal.

You should however be warned that chasing the northern lights can be addictive. For thousands of years, the Northern Lights have captured the imagination of cultures across the world which has influenced folklore and religion. It really is another worldly experience and once experienced it – you can get hooked.

What are the Northern Lights?

The Northern Lights originate from our Sun. With a complex network of gas currents, changeable magnetic field and a surface temperature that rises and falls, sunspots are created. Sunspots are areas of unstable activity on the surface of the Sun, from which particles of plasma, known as solar wind, is shot into into space.

40 hours after leaving the sun, the solar wind reaches Earth hits our own magnetic field which directs the energy towards our polar regions where it interacts with atoms and molecules of oxygen, nitrogen and other elements in our upper atmosphere resulting in the dazzling display of lights in the sky.

What causes the colours?

The colour of the Northern Lights is dependent on the gas in our atmosphere that is reacting with solar wind, the type of collision and the altitude at which it happens. Typically, oxygen causes green and yellow aurora and interactions with nitrogen produce red, violet, and occasionally blue colours. Green Northern Lights typically appear up to 150 miles (241 km) in altitude with red above 150 miles; blue usually appears at up to 60 miles (96.5 km); and purple and violet above 60 miles.

Where to see the Northern Lights?

The Northern Lights are Visible in an area called the Auroral Oval. This forms a ring around the magnetic North Pole concentrated between 65 -72 degrees latitude, although they can often be seen outside these latitudes depending on the strength of the solar activity. This makes countries such as Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Finland all well positioned for a Northern Lights holiday.

When to see the Northern Lights?

The Aurora can be seen any time between September and March and can be visible from when it gets dark to when the sun starts to rise, although the best hours are normally between 9pm and midnight.

What to take Aurora Hunting

Travelling to see the Northern Lights generally means heading north – a long way north! It is therefore important for people making that journey, that you should take all the right things with you on your trip, including everything from socks and clothing, to a head torch and camera. You might also want to remember your swimwear for geothermal pools, or the odd sauna on your travels. For the full kit list, check out the Off the Map Travel infographic here.

The Northern Lights explained in picture form …

Off The Map Travel Northern Lights Infographic

Source: Off The Map Travel