Aurora Borealis or the Northern Lights are mysterious dancing lights that take over the night skies from time to time. Most commonly these beautiful fiery waves come in green, but various shades of red, yellow, blue and purple can also be spotted.
The Nordics have for long had different stories of the origins of the northern lights. The rich and old Norse mythology attributed the lights to come from the Bifröst – a magical bridge connecting the Earth and the land of gods, Asgard. The Finns believed that the auroras were a result of a fox that ran so fast that its tail sparked flames as it dragged along on the snow – accordingly the name for auroras in Finland ‘revontulet’ translates as flames of the fox. The northern lights also have strong connections to childbirth; the Icelanders believed that the northern lights relieved the pain of childbirth and the Greenlanders thought that lights were the souls of still born babies.
Nowadays we know where the aurora borealis come from, and while the truth is perhaps less magical, its not any less fascinating. Charged particles from the Sun’s atmosphere are launched towards the Earth, where they collide with gas particles in the atmosphere. The type of gas particle they clash with decides the color of the lights. Shades of green come from oxygen molecules situated in lower atmosphere, red comes from higher oxygen molecules, and blue and purple come from nitrogen.
The Nordics have magical phenomena ranging from colorful lights at the sky to endless nights.
At the hot surface of the Sun gas molecules collide explosively causing electrons and protons to fly out of the Sun’s magnetic field.
The escaped electrons and protons join a solar wind – a stream of charged particles from the Sun, and head towards the Earth.
Earth’s magnetic field is weaker near the poles, allowing the particles in where they collide with different gas particles in Earth’s atmosphere.
The collisions between the particles from the Sun and oxygen and nitrogen in the Earth’s atmosphere emit light – the northern lights.
THE SEARCH FOR NORTHERN LIGHTS
The northern lights are stronger closer to the north pole (and the southern lights are stronger closer to the south pole). While it can be inconvenient to get really close to the North Pole, you shouldn’t worry, being around the Arctic Circle is usually enough. This makes Greenland, Iceland and the northern parts of Finland, Norway and Sweden optimal for aurora hunting.
The lights can last from few minutes to hours, and are most commonly seen between 10PM to 2AM, but can be seen earlier as well. The dark and clear winter nights in the north provide the best setting to see the lights. Bright city lights and other light pollution makes it harder to see any light activity in the sky, therefore it is best to go away from cities into the nature.
PLACES TO GO
In Abisko, Sweden you can view the northern lights at the Aurora Sky Station, known as the best place in the world to see the lights. The station is situated on top of the Mount Nuolja in the Swedish Lapland.
In Rovaniemi, Finland you can find the Arctic Snow Hotel where you sleep in a glass igloo under the Lapland sky. The aurora alarm wakes you up in case of any light activity, and you can simply stare at the sky from the comfort of your bed.
In Alta, Norway the skies are usually clear and there are no big cities nearby, making it the perfect location to spot the aurora borealis. Alta has been named the City of Northern Lights, and you can find several opportunities for guided northern light tours.
The whole of Iceland and Greenland are optimal locations to see the lights, as they are located very close to the Arctic Circle, have a great amount of darkness during winters and limited light pollution.
THE NORTHERN LIGHTS
Midnight sun refers to the glorious event close to the Arctic Circle during summer months when the sun stays up past midnight. In fact, for some time the sun doesn’t set at all (as opposed to polar nights when the sun doesn’t rise). This means that the day technically lasts… well, for days. During summer solstice (21tst or 22nd of June), the sun shines throughout the whole day at the Arctic Circle. This nightless period lasts longer closer to the North Pole, where it lasts for half a year.
The midnight sun makes the Nordic summer effectively twice the summer it is everywhere else. Night at its worst is just a long romantic sunset, and at best its like midday. This makes people energetic, vitalized and virile. The summer is full of festivals and outdoor activities, compensating for the long winter months.
Perhaps the most important celebration for any Scandinavian is the midsummer. Between the 19th and 25th of June, during the summer solstice, the Nordics light bonfires, dance around phallos symbols and create mock weddings. The festivities are of ancient origins.
The Earth is slightly tilted. The North Pole faces towards the Sun during summer.
The Sun lights the northern hemisphere more during summer, staying above the horizon for days in areas around the Arctic Circle.
THE SEARCH FOR
To experience the midnight sun, just go to any Nordic country during summer, and during midnight, obviously. The more north you go the longer the days last. Make yourself a flower crown and join the dances around the bonfires.
In Nordkapp, Norway you can experience midnight sun that lasts from the 14th of May to 29 of July.
In Rovaniemi, Finland the sun does not set from the 6th of June to 7th of July.
Polar nights refers to the phenomenon when the sun is below the horizon for more than 24 hours. It means a night that lasts the whole day, as paradoxical as that sounds. Due to the angle and rotation of the Earth, the northern hemisphere receives less sunlight during winter months (and more during summer months). The polar nights start earliest at the North Pole (90,0° N) on the 24th of September, and latest in Gällivare, Sweden, (67,1° N) on the 20th of December. Anywhere below that, sun technically rises, but only for mere minutes. The further south one goes, the more time the sun spends above the horizon. At the North Pole the polar night lasts short of 7 months, and in Gällivare for 2 days.
As you might have guessed, having a night for days gets to you. The lack of sunlight makes people sluggish, tired and even depressed. This is called seasonal affective disorder, or SAD for short, appropriately enough. It is a mood disorder on normal healthy people who get depressed because of winter or any other, season. In Finnish the polar night is called kaamos, and depression caused specifically by polar night is called kaamosmasennus, or polar night depression. Maybe because of the cold dark winters, Nordic cultures have strong emphasis on comfort and coziness - Hygge, Koselig, Mys.
At the Arctic Circle the center of the sun does not rise above the horizon for more than 24 hours. This used to be the measurement of polar night. Nowadays the measurement of sun rising is from the top of the sun instead of the center, effectively moving the border of polar night higher up north. You can see the sunlight hours for each individual Nordic capital in the respective country pages.
The Earth is slightly tilted. The North Pole faces away from the Sun during winter.
The Sun does not rise above the horizon in the areas slightly above the Arctic Circle for a period of at least 24 hours.
THE SEARCH FOR
If you are looking for some wintertime sun, we’ve got bad news for you… If you are looking for mysterious, dark and frosty evenings with only northern lights illuminating your way, well then essentially any Nordic country will cut it. Anywhere above the Arctic Circle is going to be especially dark, cold and magical.
In Rovaniemi, Finland the sun does not rise on the 21st or 22nd of December. The city glows with lights, celebrating the holidays and fighting kaamosmasennus. Santa Claus Village brings light both to the eyes and the heart.
In Kiruna, Sweden the sun does not rise between 21st of Deceber and 4th of January.
In Nordkapp, Norway you can experience the longest polar nigh in mainland Europe. The sun stays hidden from 20th of November to 22nd of January.