What is aurora borealis?
Northern lights or "aurora" is a magical phenomenon on the sky you can observe mainly from September to March on the Northern hemisphere (aurora borealis) and from March to September on the Southern hemisphere (aurora australis). When free electrons and protons are thrown from the sun's atmosphere and escape through holes in the magnetic field of Earth, you can enjoy the northern lights. Iceland, Norway and the Finnish Lapland is the most popular destinations in Europe for hunting the aurora. Observing this breathtaking phenomenon and taking good quality photos is not easy, especially when you have never done it before.
Our experiences collected in the last couple of years
In recent years we have visited several Nordic countries with the aim of hunting aurora.
The first one was in Finnish Lapland, where we observed the lights with low activity, pulling over on the motorway and trying to photograph it at minus 21 celsius. Without the right photographic equipment, we were unable to take photos we could be truly proud of.
The next successful tour was in Iceland at the end of the summer 2021, but the phenomenon was so quick that we were unable to capture it.
For our trip to Iceland at the end of 2021, we were much better prepared and lucky enough: we rented a country cottage near Hella in the middle of nowhere and were able to enjoy the aurora for many hours on 4 occasions and take many beautiful photos.
Our aurora hunting history:
5 days in October 2018, Iceland - rainy and cloudy weather, no aurora
7 days in October 2019, Finnish Lapland - successful hunting (1 night), but terrible photos
5 days in March 2020, Tromso, Norway - snowy and cloudy weather, no aurora
3 days in August 2020, Reykjavik - no aurora
5 days in December, 2020, South Iceland - no aurora
7 days in August 2021, Northern Iceland - successful hunting (1 night), but terrible photos
2 days in October 2021, Reykjavik - no aurora
10 days in December 2021, South Iceland - successful hunting (4 times), good quality photos
Useful tips for beginner aurora hunters
1. Watch the weather forecast and space weather forecast
The best way is to download one of the aurora smartphone apps. We used "My Aurora" and "Northern Eye" applications. A good aurora forecasting app and notification system is a must that warns of possible upcoming solar storms that cause strong aurora activity. The aurora is not visible every night. It strongly depends on the level of solar activity and the atmosphere. A cloudless, clear and dark sky with significant solar activity is essential.
My Aurora Forecast and Northern Eye Forecast smartphone apps
2. Dress for the weather
When the app let you know that aurora borealis visible near your accommodation, go outdoors and start hunting it. The phenomenon can last minutes or even hours, so it's important to layer up, always dressing for the weather. The weather is still nice in late August, but you need to wrap up warm in winter.
3. Always look north